Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, GMOs, nukes


Today’s headlines from the interface between planet and people begins, again, with the story of the day, first from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Liberia police fire at Monrovia protests

Police in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, have fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Residents of the capital’s West Point slum area say the barbed wire blockade stops them buying food and working.

Four people are said to have been injured in the clashes.

Liberia has seen the most deaths – 576 – in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, which has hit West Africa this year.

The Washington Post delivers good news for Westerners who got treatments with experimental drugs unavailable to most of those stricken with the dread disease which kills ninety percent of those afflicted:

Two Americans who contracted Ebola have been released from the hospital

American doctor Kent Brantly and North Carolina missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday and Brantly was released on Thursday.

“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at an Emory news conference. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

The Texas doctor appeared near death weeks ago after contracting the disease, which has killed 1,350 people in the four African nations affected by the contagion. He was flown back to the United States from Liberia in a special transport plane that included an isolation unit and arrived at Emory on Aug. 2.

Another patient who got the same drug didn’t fare so well, via El País:

Death was to be expected, say doctors who treated ebola-infected priest in Spain

  • The team who looked after Miguel Pajares in Madrid say hardest part was lack of direct contact

The death of Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares from the ebola virus in Madrid was “to be expected” even though doctors fought to save his life “to the very end,” medics who treated him at the capital’s Carlos III Hospital have said.

Speaking to news agency Efe about being the first doctors to treat an ebola patient in Europe, tropical disease specialists Marta Arsuaga and Fernando de la Calle Prieto said that at first they hoped he might pull through despite the virus’s 80 percent mortality rate, since he was being treated in a more advanced health system.

For five days, the team managed to keep 75-year-old Pajares, who had been brought back to Spain after contracting the virus working in a hospital in Liberia, alive. “At that moment we all wanted him to pull through so badly … but it is a very serious virus and the end was to be expected,” said Arsuaga.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle on an African nation on edge:

Ebola fears growing in Nigeria

Program notes:

International health officials have been keeping a close watch on Nigeria since the first cases of Ebola surfaced there a few weeks ago. But intensive government efforts have so far managed to contain the virus to about a dozen cases in Africa’s most populous nation. Still, as DW’s Adrian Kriesch discovered, the mood on the ground is anything but calm.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ebola travel: South Africa bans incomers from W Africa

South Africa says non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected areas of West Africa will not be allowed into the country.

The health ministry said borders would be closed to all non-citizen travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

South African nationals will be allowed to re-enter the country when returning from high-risk countries, but will undergo strict screening. All non-essential outgoing travel to the affected countries has been banned.

Deutsche Welle answers a question:

How does Ebola spread?

As more doctors treating Ebola patients contract the disease themselves, it’s clear that better prevention is needed. But given the virus’s resilience and the low Ebola awareness in West Africa, this is no easy task.

Ebola has claimed over 1,000 lives in West Africa so far. Despite great efforts on the part of medical specialists, the World Health Organization and aid organizations, the virus continues to spread.

In order to become infected with the disease, people need to come into direct contact with bodily fluids – such as blood, urine, feces and sweat – that contain the virus, or touch a contaminated object. The virus is very resilient and can survive on various surfaces for a long time. It can be transferred via traces of bodily fluids on surfaces like toilet seats and tabletops.

When the carrier dies, the virus doesn’t die right away. Instead, it lives inside the corpse for up to a week, continuing to pose a danger.

Global Times offers a Southeast Asian reassurance:

No Ebola case in Cambodia: PM

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the country has not seen any case related to the West Africa-hit Ebola virus disease. His remarks came after rumors across social media in recent days that Ebola was found in Cambodia.

“There is no Ebola presence in Cambodia so far,” the prime minister said during a graduation ceremony of students at Beltei International Institute.

He said the country has taken urgent measures to prevent the deadly Ebola virus by installing body-temperature sensors at airports and border checkpoints.

IRIN News observes:

Ebola horror hastens use of test drugs

Ebola’s devastation in West Africa has catapulted experimental drugs from labs to patients and shaken up vaccine development, which was hitherto patchy as outbreaks of the virus have tended to be spasmodic and geographically limited.

“There is no market for Ebola vaccines,” Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general, told IRIN. “Outside of an outbreak, who would want to get vaccinated against Ebola? Nobody. Therefore the market is inexistent more or less. So there was not that much investment into developing that. Nevertheless, they were carrying forward.”

From Mother Jones, capitalizing on fear and xenophobia:

Another GOP Candidate Says Migrant Kids Might Have Ebola. (They Don’t.)

Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin is the latest Republican politician to suggest migrants from Central America might bring the Ebola virus with them to the United States. Tobin, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the state’s 1st Congressional District in Tuesday’s primary, made the connection in an interview published in the Tucson Weekly on Thursday.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) started the GOP Ebola fearmongering trend last month when he wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “[r]eports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”  In August, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) leveled the same charge.

Although allegations of disease-ridden migrants are common throughout history, vaccination rates in Central America are higher than in Texas. And Ebola, which is difficult to contract, is not found in Central America.

On to water woes, starting with this from the Los Angeles Times:

Western drought causes Earth’s surface to rise as groundwater drops

A year and a half of drought has depleted 63 trillion gallons of water across the Western United States, according to a new study that documents how the parched conditions are altering the landscape.

The loss of groundwater, as well as surface water such as reservoirs, has been so extreme that it lifted the West an average of one-sixth of an inch since 2013, according to researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The situation is even worse underneath the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up three-fifths of an inch. Groundwater is very heavy, and its weight depresses the Earth’s upper crust. Remove the weight, and the crust springs upward.

And the accompanying graphic:
BLOG Water
More from Quartz:

The loss over the last 11 years is about 240 gigatons of water, as of March 2014—the equivalent of the annual mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. California residents have resorted to painting their lawns green to save water. And the state’s agricultural sector, including a booming marijuana business, has been tough on the water supply—to say nothing of how fast the water is being consumed by regular citizens.

There’s some good news when it comes to earthquake risk, though. Some experts have expressed concern that drought could create more stress on the San Andreas fault that runs through California; but today’s study found that stress changes from the water were “unlikely to affect” earthquake risk.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, pressure to exact a price for water pollution:

Mexican Congress Urges Government to Cancel Mine Concession after Toxic Spill

Mexico’s Congress has urged the federal government to cancel Grupo Mexico’s concession for a large copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora after acid spilled into two rivers.

The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, called for a halt to operations at the Cananea mine while authorities assess the damage caused by the Aug. 6 spill of 40,000 cubic meters (10.5 million gallons) of copper sulfate acid solution into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers.

The Mexico City-based mining giant’s negligence in storing chemical residues caused the spill, the committee said.

Public Radio International covers an aquatic cri de couer:

Coral reefs can communicate with fish, and many of them are crying for help

Georgia Tech ecologist Mark Hay calls it part of “the coral reef death spiral.”

“Everything that’s going on,” Hay says, “global warming, overfishing, pollution — means there’s less coral, more algae and more contact between corals and algae.”

And Hay says that contact can start to degrade a reef incredibly quickly — within just two days. “Those corals … start bleaching and tissues start dying where they’re in contact,” he says. “And then on a couple of those corals, that bleaching just spreads [to] the rest of the coral.”

From water to the air with The Verge:

NASA finds unexpectedly high levels of banned ozone-depleting chemical

It’s been decades since the world realized the danger that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, formerly found in products like aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and solvents) posed to the Earth’s ozone layer. But despite the fact that the CFC known as carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was banned way back in 1987, a new study from NASA shows a troubling amount of the compound in our atmosphere — something that presents a continued threat to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said NASA’s Qing Liang, lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.” Between 2007 and 2012, studies showed now new CCl4 emissions — but this new study shows that worldwide emissions of CCl4 were still at 30 percent of their peak levels back before ban went into effect. The study also showed that concentrations of the compound were declining by only one percent per year during that 2007 to 2012 time period, not by the four percent rate originally estimated.

Beyond the unexplained sources of CCl4, the compound is also staying in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than earlier studies showed. “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang asked. But unfortunately, the team behind the study isn’t ready to release any theories about what’s causing the higher-than-expected concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Another atmospheric threat, via the Independent:

Iceland volcano: Fears of eruption and ash cloud increase as Met Office registers 1,000 small earthquakes in region

Fears of another volcanic eruption in Iceland continued today with reports that weather officials have detected 1,000 small quakes in the Barðarbunga volcano, following an unusually strong earthquake on Monday.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier by Iceland’s civil protection department after the volcano began belching huge plumes of smoke.

Iceland’s Met Office released an updated statement this morning, saying: “seismic activity in Bárðarbunga and vicinity is still great. As yesterday, the main activity stems from the intrusive event under Dyngjujökull.”

From Global Times, another environment under siege:

Disappearing forests

Mountainous forests in East China’s Zhejiang Province are being consumed due to the need to develop more farmland.

In fact, many forests have already been turned into fields. Trees were chopped down and harvested for wood, leaving the land to be plowed and turned into terraced fields.

One of the key factors is the low availability of land. As a leading province in terms of economic development and urbanization, Zhejiang is in constant need of land for industrial and construction use. A lot of farmland, as a result, has been taken over.

On the other hand, because China has a stipulated “red line” base minimum of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of fields, the removal of any fields needs to be matched with the addition of the same area of land. This has meant that local governments in Zhejiang have turned their sights toward the mountains.

Inter Press Service covers yet another GMO push:

US, Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

  • Governments weighing approval of permit for genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which critics say would increase deforestation

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

While RT charts a major reversal:

End of the line: GMO production in China halted

In a surprise U-turn, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to continue with a program which developed genetically-modified rice and corn. Some environmentalists say public concerns about GM crops played a key role in the decision.

On August 17, when these permits were up for renewal, the Ministry of Agriculture decided not to extend them. In 2009, the ministry’s Biosafety Committee issued approval certificates to develop the two crops, rice and corn.

Developed by the Huazhong Agricultural University, near Wuhan, it was hoped that the GMO strains would help to reduce pesticide use by 80 percent, while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Reuters in 2009. It is illegal to sell genetically-modified rice on the open market in China.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

Local leaders seek disclosure of testimony by former nuclear plant chief

Leaders of local governments near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant want the testimony given by the plant manager months after the accident to be disclosed.

The Asahi Shimbun ascertained that eight local leaders want full disclosure after seeking the views of the Fukushima governor and heads of 13 cities, towns and villages located within 20 kilometers of the plant and areas outside the 20-km radius where radiation levels were more than 20 millisieverts per year.

Masao Yoshida was plant chief when the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear accident.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with more pressure:

TEPCO shareholders go to court for disclosure of Yoshida testimony on nuclear disaster

Shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co. filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 for disclosure of testimony about the 2011 nuclear disaster given by the late manager of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“(The government) should make public investigative records of 772 people, including Masao Yoshida (then plant manager), to enable a re-examination of what was wrong and what was correct,” said Yui Kimura, who heads the plaintiffs’ group.

The 10 TEPCO shareholders and others are calling on the Cabinet Secretariat to disclose records of the government investigation panel’s interviews with 772 people involved in the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Jiji Press advances oversight:

Japan N-Plant Decommissioning Aid Body Starts Operations

Japan’s Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., which will supervise work to decommission crippled nuclear reactors and control radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, began operations on Thursday.

The Japanese government wants to strengthen its involvement in decommissioning work through the new body. Some 50 experts on decommissioning technologies will be on hand to advise Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-stricken plant, and develop related technologies.

Takehiko Sugiyama, head of the new organization, and Hajimu Yamana, the senior official in charge of decommissioning, put up a signboard bearing the name of the organization at the entrance of its head office in Toranomon in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Thursday.

And foor our final item, via NHK WORLD, preparing for a visit:

Residents plan tour to Fukushima evacuation zone

A group of residents near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to organize guided tours of their hometown. The aim is to keep alive the memory of the 2011 nuclear accident.

Areas in 7 municipalities around the nuclear plant are part of a designated no-entry evacuation zone due to high radiation levels there. Residents need to acquire permission to enter the area.

A group of residents of Okuma town say they want outsiders to know that the impact of the accident still lingers. Okuma is one of two towns that host the plant.

California drought severity slightly improved


The latest report from the United State Drought Monitor reveals a slight improvement in the Golden State’s parched condition, thought the area encompassed by the worst level, Exceptional Drought remain unchanged as was the region ranked in the second worst category of Extreme Drought, there was a 1.21 percent reduction in the third worst category of Severe Drougth, all of the state remains in as condition of  Moderate Drought.

Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Ebola, pollution, fracking, nukes


First up, the last Ebola numbers, via USA TODAY:

BLOG Ebola

And the story, via the Associated Press:

WHO: West Africa Ebola death toll rises to 1,350

The World Health Organization says the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now at least 1,350 people.

The latest figures Wednesday show that the deaths are mounting fastest in Liberia, which now accounts for at least 576 of the deaths. The U.N. health agency also warned in its announcement that “countries are beginning to experience supply shortages, including fuel, food, and basic supplies.”

This comes after a number of airlines and shipping services have halted transport to the worst affected capitals of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

From the New York Times, the inevitable:

Clashes Erupt as Liberia Imposes Quarantine to Curb Ebola

Liberia’s halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent on Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a neighborhood here that had been cordoned off by the government.

Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving hundreds of young men back into the neighborhood, a slum of tens of thousands in Monrovia known as West Point.

One teenager in the crowd, Shakie Kamara, 15, lay on the ground near the barricade, his right leg apparently wounded by a bullet from the melee. “Help me,” pleaded Mr. Kamara, who was barefoot and wore a green Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt.

China Daily dispatches:

UN Ebola coordinator to visit West Africa

The public health expert coordinating UN efforts to fight Ebola said on Tuesday that he’s heading to Washington and then to West Africa to determine the best ways the world body can support people, communities and governments affected by the deadly disease.

David Nabarro told a news conference that he will have “intensive interactions” on Wednesday with the World Bank, experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others before flying to Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday night.

Nabarro, who was appointed a week ago, said he will then travel to the four countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

From the Independent, a telling number:

Ebola virus outbreak: This is why ‘75%’ of victims are women

Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s minister for gender and development, said health teams at task force meeting in Liberia found three-quarters of those who were infected or died from Ebola were female.

She told the Washington Post: “Women are the caregivers — if a kid is sick, they say, ‘Go to your mom.’

“The cross-border trade women go to Guinea and Sierra Leone for the weekly markets, [and] they are also the caregivers. Most of the time when there is a death in the family, it’s the woman who prepares the funeral, usually an aunt or older female relative.”

Agence France-Presse covers a unique program putting survivors to work:

Survivors enlisted in Sierra Leone’s Ebola battle

Program note:

In Ebola-hit Sierra Leone, virus survivors are being enlisted to look after sick people in a centre run by an NGO in Kailahun.

From the Jakarta Globe, alarms in Southeast Asia:

Vietnam, Myanmar Test Three Patients for Ebola

Vietnam and Myanmar are testing three patients for the deadly Ebola virus after they arrived in the Southeast Asian nations from Africa while suffering from fever, health officials said.

Two Nigerians were sent to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tropical Diseases Hospital for isolation after they arrived in the city by plane, Vietnam’s health ministry said, adding that they did not have symptoms other than fever.

Airline passengers sitting next to the pair — who travelled to Vietnam on Monday from Nigeria via Qatar — have been advised to monitor their own health.

And from RT, needless tragedy:

All 365 of Sierra Leone’s Ebola-related deaths pinned on one healer

Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis has been traced back to a single healer in an isolated border village, who had claimed to be in possession of special powers to cure the deadly disease that started penetrating the border, it has emerged.

“She was claiming to have powers to heal Ebola. Cases from Guinea were crossing into Sierra Leone for treatment,” top medical official, Mohamed Vandi, who was based in the crisis-struck Kenema district, told AFP.

“She got infected and died. During her funeral, women around the other towns got infected,” he told the agency. The woman was based in the eastern border village of Sokoma.

The Times of India prescribes:

Experimental Ebola drugs needed for up to 30,000 people

Up to 30,000 people could have used experimental treatments or vaccines so far in the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola currently plaguing West Africa, British scientists said on Wednesday.

The calculation highlights the dilemma facing officials considering how to distribute the tiny quantities of unproven drugs that are likely to be available in the near term to fight the deadly disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is hoping for improved supplies of experimental treatments and progress with a vaccine by the end of the year, after last week backing the use of untested drugs and vaccines.

CBC News offers a possible treatment:

Ebola could be treated with drug shown to fight cousin virus

  • Approach holds promise as a strategy to treat infection in humans, journal editors say

An experimental type of drug shown to protect rhesus macaques against the Marburg virus could also be tried in the fight to contain the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, a scientist says.

The Marburg and Ebola viruses are deadly cousins. Both are filoviruses that cause severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever and neither has any vaccines or drugs approved for use in humans.

Researchers in Texas and Vancouver-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals have now shown that giving rhesus macaques an experimental treatment using “small interfering RNA” (siRNA) protected the primates even when treatment began three days after infection with the Angola strain of Marburg virus. Their results are published in Wednesday’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

From Computerworld, yet another approach:

As Ebola death toll rises, scientists work on nanotech cure

  • With more than 1,200 dead in latest outbreak, nanotech could lead to treatment

Scientists at Northeastern University are using nanotechnology to find an effective treatment for the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 1,200 people and sickened even more.

What makes finding a vaccine or cure such a formidable job is that the virus mutates so quickly. How do you pin down and treat something that is continually changing?

Thomas Webster, professor and chairman of bioengineering and chemical engineering at Northeastern, may have an answer to that — nanotechnology.

Homeland Security News Wire reassures:

Ebola poses no risk in U.S.: Experts

Ebola has infected nearly 2,000 people in West Africa because the disease is spreading in populated areas with poor public health infrastructure, and where health workers might not be taking proper infection control procedures, such as wearing gloves, experts say. These experts note that Ebola can be contracted only from patients who have the symptoms, not those who are infected, and even then infection occurs only when coming into contact with bodily fluids. They say that SARS and the flu are more contagious than Ebola.

Dr. Diane Weems, the acting director of the East Central Health District, at last week’s meeting with the Richmond County Board of Health, acknowledged that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been of serious concern to American health workers, but she explained that it takes more than casual contact to cause an infection, adding that Richmond County has faced far bigger public health threats in the past and will likely deal with worse in the future.

Ebola has infected nearly 2,000 people in West Africa because the disease is spreading in populated areas with poor public health infrastructure, and where health workers might not be taking proper infection control procedures, such as wearing gloves. “We know it is not passed through the air, like a cold or like the flu,” Weems said. “It’s by infected body fluids. Health care workers who are not using good infection control, not wearing gloves, are disproportionately being impacted there, in those communities.”

And Nextgov questions:

Is There Ebola on That Smartphone?

Medical staff treating patients with Ebola and other communicable diseases in Africa face a novel kind of smartphone security problem.

When aiding Ebola patients, “What about the mobile device that you hand off to the next medical person?” said Rocky Young, a practicing physician assistant and director of cybersecurity, information assurance, outreach and mobile security for the Defense Department. “These devices have to be hardened. They have to be secured. Alcohol will damage them if you clean them.”

He was speaking at a mobile industry summit in Washington on Wednesday.

On to another climate change threat, via Newswise:

Climate Change Will Threaten Fish by Drying Out Southwest U.S. Streams, Study Predicts

Modeling suggests fish will lose habitat as steady flow of surface water is depleted

Fish species native to a major Arizona watershed may lose access to important segments of their habitat by 2050 as surface water flow is reduced by the effects of climate warming, new research suggests.

Most of these fish species, found in the Verde River Basin, are already threatened or endangered. Their survival relies on easy access to various resources throughout the river and its tributary streams. The species include the speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), roundtail chub (Gila robusta) and Sonora sucker (Catostomus insignis).

A key component of these streams is hydrologic connectivity – a steady flow of surface water throughout the system that enables fish to make use of the entire watershed as needed for eating, spawning and raising offspring.

Models that researchers produced to gauge the effects of climate change on the watershed suggest that by the mid 21st century, the network will experience a 17 percent increase in the frequency of stream drying events and a 27 percent increase in the frequency of zero-flow days.

Another cost, via the Associated Press:

Report: Firefighting costs eroding conservation

The Obama administration detailed on Wednesday the toll that the escalating cost of fighting forest fires has had on other projects as it pushes Congress to overhaul how it pays for the most severe blazes.

In a new report, the Agriculture Department said that staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998. Meanwhile, the number of workers who manage National Forest System lands has dropped by about a third.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that accommodating the rapid rise in firefighting costs has harmed an array of conservation efforts. For example, spending that helps restore vegetation and watersheds after a fire has fallen 22 percent since 2001. Another program that partners with states and private landowners to conserve wildlife habitat has been cut by 17 percent during that same period.

On a related front, this from BBC News:

Greenland ice loss doubles from late 2000s

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute. “To us, that’s an incredible number,” she told BBC News.

The Irish Times covers another threat:

Iceland evacuates area amid concerns over volcanic activity

  • Authorities cannot rule out eruption and warned airlines about increased seismic activity

Iceland’s civil protection agency has decided to evacuate an area north of the country’s Bardarbunga volcano, saying it could not rule out an eruption.

The move came after authorities on Monday warned airlines about increased seismic activity at Iceland’s largest volcanic system. Ash from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe’s airspace for six days.

“This decision is a safety measure,” the agency said on its website. “It cannot be ruled out that the seismic activity in Bardarbunga could lead to a volcanic eruption.”

From MintPress News, a challenge to Big Ag:

Missourians Fight ALEC Over Big Agriculture’s “Right to Farm”

  • Grassroots efforts will likely push a recount on an amendment to Missouri’s bill of rights that favors the interests of corporate agriculture.

On Aug. 5, Missouri residents voted on the state’s Right-to-Farm, Amendment 1, a new addition to the state’s bill of rights. The results were extremely close: 498,751 voted in favor of the new amendment, while 496,223 opposed it. With a difference of less than half a percent, a recount is almost certain.

Though the Humane Society of the United States donated $375,000 in opposition, the amendment had the financial backing of Big Agriculture and its deep pockets as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the secretive organization which writes legislation on behalf of major corporations.

That the bill came so close to defeat is a testament to the efforts of grassroots Missouri activists like the members of People’s Visioning, a coalition of diverse progressive organizations led by Columbia, Missouri, resident Monta Welch. MintPress News spoke with Welch and other members of her coalition as they rested from what they described as an exhausting campaign and considered what their next steps might be if the recount fails.

BBC News covers another people-produced environmental dilemma:

‘Growth drives UK flooding problems’

Part of the UK’s problem with flooding is self-imposed, new research suggests.

The study says the number of reported major flood events has increased, but in parallel with population growth and a boom in building in vulnerable areas.

It says it is unclear if climate change is implicated in recent flooding.

But the Southampton University team urges government to continue spending on flood defences as more homes are likely to be vulnerable due to sea level rise and more intense rainfall.

Reuters covers a corporate coverup:

Mexico minister says Grupo Mexico account of toxic spill ‘totally false’

Mexico’s environment secretary said on Tuesday that Grupo Mexico gave false information about a toxic spill at its Buenavista mine in northern Mexico, a day after the environmental authority said it would file a criminal complaint against the company.

In a statement on Aug. 12, Grupo Mexico said that “unusual rainfall” had caused the spill. But Environment Secretary Juan Jose Guerra told local radio on Tuesday that this was “totally false” and that there was zero precipitation on Aug. 6, the day the spill was detected.

“They unfortunately did not have dams. They hadn’t put infrastructure there to contain leached (fluids) in case of a spill,” he said.

After the jump, more woes from Fukushima [including flawed contamination treatment reboots, missing information, evacuation questions, and more], German nuclear waste woes, new fracking-spawned earthquakes in two states, and a fracking promise in Mexico. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, global woes, toxins, nukes


Another hefty compendium of alarms and alerts about the increasingly destruction relationship betwixt people and planet, starting with that most urgent of events, the continuing Ebola catastrophe in Africa.

International Business Times covers one deadly consequence:

Ebola Outbreak: Liberian Army Ordered to ‘Shoot on Sight’ Anyone Crossing Sierra Leone Border

Liberia’s armed forces have been given orders to shoot people on sight who are attempting to illegally cross the border from Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, according to local media reports.

The order was given to soldiers stationed in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties on the border with Sierra Leone in hope of preventing the spread of the deadly virus, deputy chief of staff, Colonel Eric Dennis said.

Liberia has the highest death toll from the disease with approximately 400 citizens killed. So far, more than 1,200 people have died from the disease, which has been described as the worst ever outbreak of the virus.

And an earlier omnibus report from Deutsche Welle:

African governments take isolation measures

  • African governments are sealing their ports and airports in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola. But will fever checks and entry bans really make any difference?

With more than 1,100 dead and 2,100 suspected cases of Ebola, authorities in many African countries are holding their breath. Many are nervous, and some have begun to isolate themselves.

From Tuesday onwards, Kenya Airways has suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast is no longer allowing ships from Ebola-hit countries to pass through its waters. In Nigeria, no one is allowed to board a plane unless their temperature is normal and they have passed the airport’s “fever check.”

“I think the restriction of air traffic is an expression of the helplessness of the authorities there when it comes to containing the disease,” said Dieter Häussinger, director of the Hirsch Institute of Tropical Medicine. He thinks that monitoring people’s temperature is a questionable method, because it’s impossible to separate those infected with Ebola from people who’ve got the flu.

United Press International ups the aid ante:

Food distribution to Ebola quarantine sites scaled up as death toll hits 1,200

  • The World Health Organization and the U.N.’s World Food Program have teamed up to provide needed food to quarantine sites in Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. “Providing regular food supplies is a potent means of limiting unnecessary movement,” WHO noted.

The World Health Organization issued an update Tuesday regarding the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

As of August 16, WHO recorded 2,240 cases of confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, including 1,229 deaths.

The distribution and classification of the cases are as follows:

  • Guinea, 543 cases (396 confirmed, 140 probable, and 7 suspected), including 394 deaths;
  • Liberia, 834 cases (200 confirmed, 444 probable, and 190 suspected), including 466 deaths;
  • Nigeria, 15 cases (12 confirmed, 0 probable, and 3 suspected), including 4 deaths;
  • Sierra Leone, 848 cases (775 confirmed, 34 probable, and 39 suspected), including 365 deaths.

From the Associated Press, a hopeful sign in a disease that kills 90 percent of its victims:

Liberia: 3 receiving untested Ebola drug improving

Three Liberian health workers receiving an experimental drug for Ebola are showing signs of recovery, officials said Tuesday, though medical experts caution it is not certain if the drug is effective.

The World Health Organization said that the death toll for West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has climbed past 1,200 but that there are tentative signs that progress is being made in containing the disease.

The three Liberians are being treated with the last known doses of ZMapp, a drug that had earlier been given to two infected Americans and a Spaniard. The Americans are also improving, but the Spaniard died.

CBC News makes a critical note about a continent where Africans have all been treated as Big Pharma lab rats:

Ebola outbreak: Africans understandably wary about promised cures

  • Past drug trials likely affecting public suspicion in West Africa today

New concerns that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is much worse than reported are adding to the global pressure to find a solution – even if that means testing unproven drugs on desperate Africans. But medical ethicists and others in the drug-testing business say the focus on miracle cures for Ebola is misplaced.

And, in any event, Western nations owe Africans a huge debt of gratitude for even considering being the ones to try these experimental medications.

Untested drugs and vaccines are now in the spotlight after reports that three Westerners received the experimental Canadian drug ZMapp, and about the Canadian government announcing it would donate up to 1,000 doses of a potential Ebola vaccine that is in the development stage.

The Japan Times rounds up:

Liberia says all 17 runaway Ebola patients have been located

Liberia has found all 17 suspected Ebola patients who fled a quarantine center in Monrovia at the weekend and transferred them to another clinic, the information minister said on Tuesday.

“We are glad to confirm that all of the 17 individuals have been accounted for and have now been transferred to JFK Ebola specialist treatment center,” said Lewis Brown.

He also said that three infected African doctors who had received the experimental Ebola drug Zmapp were showing “remarkable signs of improvement,” quoting an assessment by the doctor overseeing their treatment.

TheLocal.fr raises aerial objections:

Air France staff object to flying to Ebola countries

Air France cabin crew are so concerned about the threat of the Ebola epidemic that unions have started a petition calling for flights to be stopped to those West African countries most affected by the disease.

A union representing Air France staff has launched a petition to try to persuade company chiefs to stop flying to Guinea and Sierra Leone until the Ebola crisis is under control.

The two countries are heavily affected by the epidemic, that has killed over 1,200 people, and staff fear their lives are in danger each time they touch down in those countries.

Latin American Herald Tribune makes ready across the Atlantic:

Mexico City Airport Prepares to Deal with Ebola

The Mexico City International Airport is ready to deal with any possible cases of Ebola, a viral disease that is spreading through West Africa, aviation officials said.

Posters informing travelers about the disease and the measures to take to avoid spreading it are being put up around the airport.

The airport “is fully complying with the regulations established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding the outbreak affecting Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, countries where people have been infected with the virus,” airport management said in a statement.

And from the Los Angeles Times, a photojournalist covers the crisis:

Ebola crisis: Photographer John Moore chronicles the outbreak in Liberia

Program notes:

Getty Images photographer John Moore travels to Liberia to cover the burgeoning Ebola outbreak in the West African country, and he describes the scene and precautions he and health workers have taken.

From TheLocal.de, a false alarm:

Stomach bug behind Berlin ‘Ebola’ scare

Around 600 people were held for several hours in emergency quarantine at a Berlin Job Centre on Tuesday after a West African woman collapsed with Ebola-like symptoms.

The emergency services cordoned off the premises in the city’s northeastern Prenzlauer Berg district after the 30-year-old collapsed. The woman then told medics she had had contact with victims of the deadly disease in her homeland.

She was immediately taken for hospital testing along with several other people who had been with her in the building.

However, doctors said that Ebola was unlikely and that the woman was probably suffering from an acute stomach bug.

TheLocal.at covers another false alarm:

All-clear given on suspected Ebola cases

Austria’s health ministry gave the all-clear Tuesday evening after regional authorities earlier reported two suspected cases of Ebola in two men recently returned from Nigeria.

“The test results in both cases were negative,” the health ministry said.

The news came hours after the governor of Upper Austria province, Josef Pühringer, said two men who returned last Wednesday from Lagos had been hospitalised on suspicion of carrying the deadly disease.

Blood samples were sent to a laboratory in Germany, which announced late Tuesday that the results were negative, Pühringer later said.

On to another environmental front with Newswise:

World’s Primary Forests on the Brink

An international team of conservationist scientists and practitioners has published new research showing the precarious state of the world’s primary forests.

The global analysis and map are featured in a paper appearing in the esteemed journal Conservation Letters and reveals that only five percent of the world’s pre-agricultural primary forest cover is now found in protected areas.

Led by Professor Brendan Mackey, Director of the Climate Change Response Program at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, the authors are experts in forest ecology, conservation biology, international policy and practical forest conservation issues.

Representing organisations such as the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, the Zoological Society of London, the Geos Institute and Australian National University, they conclude that primary forest protection is the joint responsibility of developed as well as developing countries and is a matter of global concern.

Primary forests – largely ignored by policy makers and under increasing land use threats – are forests where there are no visible indications of human activities, especially industrial-scale land use, and ecological processes have not been significantly disrupted.

From the Guardian, another global alarm:

Earth sliding into ‘ecological debt’ earlier and earlier, campaigners warn

  • World has already exhausted a year’s supply of natural resources in less than eight months, Global Footprint Network says

Humans have used up the natural resources the world can supply in a year in less than eight months, campaigners have warned.

The world has now reached “Earth overshoot day”, the point in the year when humans have exhausted supplies such as land, trees and fish and outstripped the planet’s annual capacity to absorb waste products including carbon dioxide.

The problem is worsening, with the planet sliding into “ecological debt” earlier and earlier, so that the day on which the world has used up all the natural resources available for the year has shifted from early October in 2000 to August 19 in 2014.

Al Jazeera America covers a consequence of perverted appetites:

Ivory poachers killing elephants faster than they are being born

  • Study says tipping point reached as poachers kill 7 percent of African elephants annually; birth rate is 5 percent

African elephants are being pushed over the tipping point, a new study said, with more being killed by poachers for their ivory than are born each year.

“We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent,” said the study’s lead author, George Wittemye of Colorado State University. The peer-reviewed report was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Poaching has killed 7 percent of the continent’s elephant population annually from 2010-2013, but their birth rate is just 5 percent, according to the report. At those rates the animals could be wiped out within 100 years, and conservationists are worried.

After jump, tainted food, metallic toxins, catastrophic mine leaks, fracking protests, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and one for the birds. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxics, nukes, solar kill


Once again, we open with Ebola news, first with a perhaps needless tragedy via CBC News:

Dying Sierra Leone Dr. Sheik Umar Khan never told Ebola drug was available

  • Just days later, same experimental drug given to U.S. doctor, missionary

The story of Sierra Leone’s “hero doctor” does not have a happy ending.

Even though Dr. Sheik Umar Khan was an experienced virus warrior, and hemorrhagic fevers were his specialty, he tested positive for Ebola on July 22 and died in seven terrible days.

His friends and colleagues from around the world are sick with grief, and a haunting question hangs in the air. Did doctors make the right decision in refusing to treat him with an experimental drug?

From Reuters, border-crossing carriers:

Guinea reopens Ebola clinic as sick spill over border

Guinea said on Saturday it will reopen an Ebola clinic in its remote southeast as sick nationals living in Liberia and Sierra Leone spill over the borders in search of better treatment.

West Africa’s Guinea, the first country in the region to be affected by the deadly virus which has killed more than 1,100 people, says it has brought the outbreak under control. But it is worried that a poor response to the epidemic from its neighbors will reverse its progress.

“We are concerned about the length of the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia, specifically in Macenta and Pamelap,” said Sakoba Keita from Guinea’s Health Ministry, referring to border towns.

The Associated Press covers another aspect:

Ebola health workers battle death, heat, rumors

Doctors and nurses fighting Ebola in West Africa are working 14-hour days, seven days a week, wearing head-to-toe gear in the heat of muddy clinics. Agonizing death is the norm. The hellish conditions aren’t the only problem: Health workers struggle to convince patients they’re trying to help them, not hurt them.

Rumors are rife that Western aid workers are importing Ebola, stealing bodies or even deliberately infecting patients. Winning trust is made harder by a full suit of hood, goggles, mask and gown that hides their faces.

“You want to say so much … because they’re in so much pain,” said nurse Monia Sayah, of Doctors Without Borders. “They suffer so much, but they can only see your eyes.”

The outbreak has hit three of the world’s poorest countries, where health systems there were already woefully understaffed and ill-equipped. In Liberia, there is only one doctor for every 100,000 people, while in Sierra Leone there are two, according to the World Health Organization; there were no statistics available for Guinea. The figure is 245 for the United States.

The Associated Press covers a call:

UN urges exit screening for Ebola at some airports

Ebola-affected countries should immediately begin exit screening all passengers leaving international airports, sea ports and major ground crossings, the U.N. health agency said on Monday.

The agency didn’t spell out which countries should start screening passengers, but noted that the Ebola outbreak involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona and a “small number of people in Nigeria.”

All countries, even those unaffected by the outbreak in West Africa, need to strengthen their ability to detect and immediately contain new cases without doing anything that unnecessarily interferes with international travel or trade, the agency said. But countries don’t need to impose travel restrictions and active screening of passengers if they do not share borders with Ebola-affected countries, it said.

More from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO sets up Ebola task force with global airline and travel sector

The World Health Organisation said on Monday (Aug 18) that it had set up a task force with the global airline and tourism industry in an effort to contain the spread of Ebola.

The UN agency said it was working hand in hand with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the World Tourism Organization, Airports Council International (ACI), the International Air Transport Association and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The goal, it said in a statement, was to “support the global efforts to contain the spread of the disease and provide a coordinated international response for the travel and tourism sector”. It added that the task force would “monitor the situation and provide timely information to the travel and tourism sector as well as to travellers”.

Still more, via Businessweek:

Airlines Urged to Keep Flying in West Africa Amid Ebola Outbreak

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reached crisis proportions but poses no particular risk to air travelers, according to health officials and airlines—and air service should continue to serve affected areas to help combat the disease. That’s the message the International Air Transport Association, a trade group for global airlines, is pressing, bolstered by the World Health Organization, which says there’s no need for travel bans over the virus.

“Ebola is a terrible disease, but it is not easy to contract,” IATA’s vice president for Africa, Raphael Kuuchi, said today at an aviation conference in Johannesburg. “It can only be caught through contact with bodily fluids. It is almost impossible to be infected by someone on a flight.”

Researchers believe the virus cannot be transmitted through the air. “Because the risk of Ebola transmission on airplanes is so low, WHO does not consider air transport hubs at high risk for further spread of Ebola,” Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, director of WHO Global Capacity Alert and Response, said in an Aug. 14 news release.

On to climate change and future woes for the Napa Vally via Want China Times:

Climate change may mean China could be top wine producer by 2050

Warmer temperatures caused by climate change may mean that the south of France will no longer be able to produce high-quality wine in the future, which may present new wine-producing opportunities for northern Europe and China in the future, reports Shanghai-based China Business News.

A report published in 2005 by Professor Gregory Jones and his coworkers compared the temperatures at 27 wine-producing regions during grape-growing seasons over 50 years and concluded that the south of France will likely be unsuitable for producing wine by 2050. Li Yangang, one of ten Chinese nationals who has received a Level 4 certificate from the world renowned wine education institute WSET, said the region may still be able to produce wine but it would be of a lower quality

The future of major wine producers in Spain, Italy, the United States and Australia has been threatened by climate change. Jones’ research team predicted that between 2000 and 2049, the average temperature during grape’s growing system will increase 2.04°C, which would be devastating for wine producers who will have a hard time finding enough water for their vineyards.

Sky News covers ecocrisis:

Trains Carrying Toxic Chemicals Crash Head-On

Hundreds of people are evacuated after the trains smashed into each other and exploded into flames in northeast Arkansas.

Two freight trains carrying toxic chemicals have crashed head-on in the US, killing two people and injuring two others. Firefighters spent seven hours extinguishing the fire as diesel and chemicals on board burst into flames.

Around 500 people were evacuated from the crash scene in Hoxie, a small town in northeast Arkansas.

From Shanghai Daily, we’ll have the unleaded, please:

Lead found in baby cereal from Heinz

Heinz baby products are at the center of a health scare after food safety authorities in east China’s Zhejiang Province sealed 614 boxes of cereal made by the US food giant.

Excessive levels of lead were found in 400-gram boxes of “AD Calcium Hi-Protein Cereal” with batch number 20140413 during a regular food inspection, the Zhejiang Provincial Food and Drug Administration said yesterday.

Food safety staff launched a special inspection of 303 food vendors in the province. The sealed products were 483 boxes from two trade companies in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, and 131 from retailers.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a homecoming invitation from the Asahi Shimbun:

Second group of Fukushima residents given OK to return home in evacuation zone

Some residents of this village who lived within the 20-kilometer restricted zone surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were told on Aug. 17 that they can soon return home, only the second time the right of return has been granted.

The lifting of the evacuation order will allow the return of 275 residents living in 139 households in the eastern area of the village of Kawauchi.

The government made the announcement during a meeting with residents of the village on Aug. 17.

The Mainichi adds a critical element:

Gov’t decides to lift evacuation order on Fukushima village despite residents’ protests

An evacuation order for the eastern part of this village that has been in place since the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be lifted on Oct. 1, government officials agreed on Aug. 17, despite residents protesting that it is too early to lift the order.

The order covers an area with 139 households where 275 people live within 20 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Also on Oct. 1, a stricter evacuation order covering 18 households where 54 people live will be lowered in severity to allow more access.

The agreement was reached by Senior Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Kazuyoshi Akaba and Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo. Akaba is also head of the national government’s local nuclear disaster-response headquarters.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a nuclear payoff proposal:

TEPCO, Tohoku Electric to ‘donate’ 200 million yen more to village hosting nuclear reprocessing complex

Embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. will make a final combined 200 million yen ($1.95 million) “donation” to a village hosting the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, despite industry ministry criticism, The Asahi Shimbun has found.

The payment, which the two utilities have made annually since fiscal 2010, will go to assist the local fisheries industry in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.

An Asahi Shimbun investigation into the village’s financial data and interviews with local officials showed that the Rokkasho government sent a document requesting financial assistance to TEPCO and Tohoku Electric on July 14.

And the cold shoulder, from NHK WORLD:

Town rejects plans to build radioactive waste site

The mayor of Shioya, in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo, has demanded that the government retract its plan to build a permanent radioactive waste storage site in his town.

The Environment Ministry is seeking to construct facilities in 5 prefectures within the Tokyo metropolitan area and northern Japan. The facilities will permanently hold sewage sludge, incinerated ash, and other debris contaminated with more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive materials. The highly radioactive waste was incurred by the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011.

Last month, the ministry decided to use state-owned land in Shioya to build one of the facilities. The ministry wants the town’s cooperation in field surveys in the area. But the town is opposed to the construction. Town Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata and the speaker of the local assembly visited the ministry on Monday.

Kyodo News exports:

Japan resumes exporting Fukushima rice after 2011 nuclear crisis

Exporting of rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture has resumed after it was halted in the wake of the nuclear crisis in 2011 and concerns about radiation contamination, a national agricultural cooperative said Monday.

Three hundred kilograms of the Koshihikari brand of rice produced in Sukagawa City, Fukushima, has arrived in Singapore, and will be sold at a supermarket from Friday after clearing customs, according to the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations.

Fukushima Prefecture, a major producer of rice, had exported some 100 tons of rice in the year to March 2011 to such regions as Hong Kong, before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear accident in the prefecture.

Meanwhile, another troublesome fuel gets a legal thumbs up, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Court rejects challenge to big tar sands oil pipeline

A federal judge on Monday rejected environmentalists’ challenge to a nearly 600-mile pipeline designed to carry tar sands crude oil between Illinois and Oklahoma.

In a 48-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson concluded the Flanagan South Pipeline could proceed without further federal study.

“This much is clear,” Jackson wrote. “A private company is constructing the FS Pipeline project largely on privately-owned land; the federal agencies that have been consulted about aspects of the pipeline project have control over only a small portion of the land and waterways that the pipeline traverses; and no statute authorizes the federal government to regulate or oversee the construction of a domestic oil pipeline.”

And for our final item, via the Associated Press, green maybe, but also medium rare:

BrightSource solar plant sets birds on fire as they fly overhead

  • Death estimates range from 1,000 to 28,000 per year

Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the concentrated beams of solar energy focused upward by the plant’s 300,000 mirrors — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, fracking, nukes


One again, we open today’s collection of environmental news stories with nature’s own pushback against human encroachment, first with BuzzFeed:

Mob Destroys Ebola Center In Liberia Two Days After It Opens

Fear and denial of the deadly virus are pervasive in Liberia. The mob exponentially increased the risk in one of the country’s biggest Ebola hot spots.

A mob descended on the center at around 5:30 p.m., chanting, “No Ebola in West Point! No Ebola in West Point!” They stormed the front gate and pushed into the holding center. They stole the few gloves someone had donated this morning, and the chlorine sprayers used to disinfect the bodies of those who die here, all the while hollering that Ebola is a hoax.

They ransacked the protective suits, the goggles, the masks. They destroyed part of Tarplah’s car as he was fleeing the crowd.

Jemimah Kargbo, a health care worker at a clinic next door, said they took mattresses and bedding, utensils and plastic chairs. “Everybody left with their own thing,” she said. “What are they carrying to their homes? They are carrying their deaths.”

Sky News has an update:

Ebola Spread Feared As Sufferers Flee Mob

Seventeen ebola sufferers flee a clinic raided by looters who steal blood-stained sheets – sparking fears the virus will spread.

At least 17 ebola patients have fled a quarantine centre in Liberia after it was attacked by armed men. The sufferers fled after looters broke into the clinic in a Monrovia slum, stealing blood-stained matresses and sheets, and claiming ebola was a hoax.

“They broke down the doors and looted the place. The patients all fled,” Rebecca Wesseh, who witnessed the attack, told AFP news agency.  Health officials say they fear the looting attack at the unit in West Point will spread ebola infections in Monrovia.

From the London Telegraph, devastation:

One patient in a 200-bed hospital: how Ebola has devastated Liberia’s health system

  • Patients with other illnesses now dying due to lack of medical care amid Ebola outbreak in Liberia

Three-year-old Matu Buema lies wheezing in her hospital bed, a tiny, listless bundle in her mother Fatu’s arms. The normally bouncy toddler is suffering from a bout of malaria that could easily kill her – yet right now, she is far and away the luckiest of the patients to have sought help at Phebe Hospital in central Liberia.

Last month, five of the hospital’s nurses and one doctor became infected while treating a patient carrying the Ebola virus, and in the ensuing panic, most of the rest of the staff fled en masse.

The hospital has been closed ever since, and for the 330,000 residents of Bong County, a swathe of dense rainforests scattered with remote villages, there are now no emergency hospital facilities at all, be it for Ebola or anything else.

From the Guardian, a plea:

WHO urges calm as Kenya bans contact with Ebola-affected countries

  • The transmission risk from flying is low, but mounting pressure forces Kenya Airways to suspend flights

The World Health Organisation has urged governments not to impose blanket bans on trade and travel on Ebola-affected countries after Kenya joined a growing number of countries and airlines severing links to three west African states.

The WHO has already said that the risk of Ebola transmission from air travel is low, but the level of fear is so high that several airlines have disregarded the UN agency’s advice. The disease has already killed at least 1,145 people across west Africa this year.

“The scale of the outbreak is much larger than anything ever seen before,” said Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman. “It is an obvious source of concern and it is not to be underestimated, but we must take measures commensurate with the risk. What you don’t want to do is to take blanket measures to cut off travel and trade.”

The New York Times adds another complication:

With Aid Doctors Gone, Ebola Fight Grows Harder

The departure of many Western development workers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the West African countries hit hardest by Ebola, has further weakened the region’s understaffed health systems at the very moment they are facing one of the most volatile public health crises ever. Liberia, population four million, has fewer than 250 doctors left in the entire country, according to the Liberia Medical and Dental Council. Seven doctors there have contracted Ebola, and two of them have died.

“The locals’ seeing this mass exodus of expatriates has contributed to the sense that there’s an apocalypse happening and they’re in it on their own,” said Raphael Frankfurter, executive director of the Wellbody Alliance, which provides clinical services in a diamond-mining district of Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, where the outbreak began.

Mr. Frankfurter, too, sent his four American volunteers home for fear they might fall ill. They left behind 160 Liberian staff members. “It’s certainly not in line with our values, because it’s just such a glaring inequality,” he said. But “it’s a very scary place to get sick right now.”

Global Times covers a win:

Nigerian Ebola patient discharged after full recovery

The first Nigerian confirmed to have contracted the Ebola virus had been discharged after full recovery, the government said late on Saturday.

Minister of Health Onyebuchi Chukwu, who told reporters in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub, said the patient was discharged after conclusive discharge protocols, adding that she could go home to resume her normal life.

Five other Ebola patients have almost fully recovered, Chukwu said, adding that the female doctor had attended to the Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the disease to Nigeria on July 20. Sawyer died on July 25.

And from Sky News, if not a win, then not a loss:

Spain Ebola Alert Over As Man Tests Negative

A man tests negative for ebola after walking into a hospital in Alicante showing “several symptoms” of the disease.

An ebola alert activated in Alicante, Spain, after a young Nigerian man was admitted to hospital with fever and vomiting is over after he tested negative.

Spanish health authorities activated alert protocols after the man showed “several symptoms” of the disease. But sources say that tests have now revealed the man did not have ebola.

From the Los Angeles Times, another withdrawal:

African nations pull out of Youth Olympics in Ebola controversy

Saying they were unhappy about being stigmatized over fears of Ebola, some African countries have withdrawn from a Youth Olympics tournament set to begin Saturday in the Chinese city of Nanjing.

Nigeria said it was in the process of sending home a delegation of 19 officials and teenage athletes who had arrived in China earlier this week. Sierra Leone and Liberia decided against even sending delegations to China.

The International Olympic Committee in Geneva announced Friday that athletes from Ebola-impacted countries would not be allowed in swimming or combat events. The committee said the decision was made after consultation with the World Health Organization and Chinese officials.

And the Associated Press adds another complexity:

Another Ebola problem: Finding its natural source

A scary problem lurks beyond the frenzied efforts to keep people from spreading Ebola: No one knows exactly where the virus comes from or how to stop it from seeding new outbreaks.

Ebola has caused two dozen outbreaks in Africa since it first emerged in 1976. It is coming from somewhere — probably bats — but experts agree they need to pinpoint its origins in nature.

That has had to wait until they can tame the current outbreak, which has claimed more than 1,100 lives in four countries — the worst toll from Ebola in history.

“First and foremost get the outbreak under control. Once that piece is resolved, then go back and find what the source is,” said Jonathan Towner, a scientist who helped find the bat source of another Ebola-like disease called Marburg. Towner works for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

China Daily stays the course:

Ebola outbreak interrupts Chinese companies in Liberia, but risk controllable

The Ebola outbreak in Liberia has affected the operation and business of Chinese companies in the country, but Chinese workers remain safe and the risk is still controllable, said a Chinese diplomat.

There are some 1,500 workers with Chinese companies in Liberia and the impact of the epidemic on Chinese companies has gradually surfaced, Chinese commercial counsellor Xiao Mingxiang told Xinhua on Friday.

Due to the withdrawal of the medical staff of international organizations and the heavy loss of local medics, the Liberian medical institutes have come to a crunch, Xiao said.

And from Vocativ, quackery:

This Guy Sent Sierra Leone 4,000 Bottles of Holy Water to Cure Ebola

  • The Nigerian minister who claims his holy water can cure Ebola also claims he predicted the MH370 plane crash and Boston bombings. Seems legit

To help the West African country fight the escalating Ebola crisis, Nigerian Christian preacher Temitope Joshua says he has sent the Sierra Leone government 4,000 bottles of his patented holy anointed water and $50,000 in cash in a private jet, which also cost $50,000 to charter.

Sierra Leone will, one would assume, take every penny it can get to stem the Ebola outbreak, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives worldwide, with the majority of the victims in West African countries. Such odd largess does certainly beg the question, though: Who the hell is this guy?

On to water woes, first with the Los Angeles Times:

On Santa Cruz Island, rising seas present archaeological emergency

Archaeologist Torben Rick watched with frustration as pounding surf clawed at one of North America’s oldest homesteads, a massive heap of village foundations, cutting tools, beads and kitchen discards left behind over the last 13,000 years.

Here, seafaring tribal members cast fishing nets from canoes made of redwood planks, prepared dinners on stone griddles, and painstakingly chipped out tiny shell beads prized as currency.

But unless something is done, this rich trove of Native American history and several others on the island will almost certainly be destroyed by rising seas and strong storm surges along beaches that will soon no longer exist.

From the San Jose Mercury News, post-Proposition 13 infrastructure neglect adds to the woes:

California Drought: Bay Area loses billions of gallons to leaky pipes

As Bay Area residents struggle to save water during a historic drought, the region’s water providers have been losing about 23 billion gallons a year, a new analysis of state records reveals.

Aging and broken pipes, usually underground and out of sight, have leaked enough water annually to submerge the whole of Manhattan by 5 feet — enough to meet the needs of 71,000 families for an entire year.

Bay Area water agencies have lost from 3 to 16 percent of their treated water, according to this newspaper’s analysis of the latest reports on water that disappears before the meter. The figures are especially irritating for residents who are being forced to cut up to 20 percent of their water use and contend with the first-ever statewide restrictions on outdoor watering.

Bloomberg looks ahead:

California Drought Transforms Global Food Market

On its own, California would be the world’s ninth-largest agricultural economy, according to a University of California at Davis study. Shifts in its production reverberate globally, said Dan Sumner, another agricultural economist at the school.

“It’s a really big deal,” Sumner said. “Some crops simply grow better here than anyplace else, and our location gives us access to markets you don’t have elsewhere.”

The success of California agriculture was built in large part on advances in irrigation that allowed the state to expand beyond wheat, which flourishes in dry climates. It’s now the U.S.’s top dairy producer and grows half the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts.

And Homeland Security News Wire notes a shift:

Antarctica to become major contributor to sea level rise faster than previously thought

While Antarctica currently contributes less than 10 percent to global sea level rise and is a minor contributor compared to the thermal expansion of the warming oceans and melting mountain glaciers, it is Greenland and especially the Antarctic ice sheets with their huge volume of ice that are expected to be the major contributors to future long-term sea level rise.

Ice discharge from Antarctica could contribute up to thirty-seven centimeters to the global sea level rise within this century, a new study shows. For the first time, an international team of scientists provide a comprehensive estimate on the full range of Antarctica’s potential contribution to global sea level rise based on physical computer simulations.

Led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the study combines a whole set of state-of-the-art climate models and observational data with various ice models. The results reproduce Antarctica’s recent contribution to sea level rise as observed by satellites in the last two decades and show that the ice continent could become the largest contributor to sea level rise much sooner than previously thought.

While The Hill adds another complication:

California Democrats in tight races balk at Obama climate talk

Voters don’t hear the words “climate change” when Democrats in competitive races in California explain what’s causing the worst drought in the state’s history.

President Obama has repeatedly blamed global warming for episodes of severe weather, including wildfires and droughts in the Golden State, but Democrats seeking to unseat Republicans in the hard-hit Central Valley region are balking at that argument.

The drought is an issue in three of the five closest House races in California, but Democrats are opting against drawing a direct link between the drought and climate change.

And the London Telegraph covers water woes in the Southern Hemisphere:

‘Water war’ in Brazil as Rio’s supply threatened

  • São Paulo and Rio authorities battle over scarce water resources as reservoirs run dry

A severe drought affecting Brazil’s biggest city has led to a “water war” that could cause the water supply to collapse in parts of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Authorities in São Paulo have been battling a water crisis for months as reservoirs run dry for lack of rainfall.

Earlier this month, the state energy company in São Paulo (Cesp) asked the national operator of the electric system (ONS) to reduce the water flow at the Jaguari hydro-electric dam on the Rio Paraíba do Sul from 40,000 litres per second to 10,000 litres per second.

From the Canadian Press, frackophobia phobia:

N.B. fracking protest raised fears of copycat rallies

  • Documents show Ottawa watched Elsipogtog First Nation anti-fracking rally closely

Federal officials closely tracked the fallout of an RCMP raid on a First Nations protest against shale-gas exploration in New Brunswick, at one point raising concerns it could spawn another countrywide movement like Idle No More.

Documents obtained under access-to-information legislation reveal a lengthy email chain last fall monitoring events related to a blockade near Rexton, N.B., about 70 kilometres north of Moncton.

Members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, who were concerned about the environmental impact of shale-gas development, didn’t want energy company SWN Resources to do testing work on their traditional territory.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Scientist weighs homecoming risks in Fukushima

Decontamination is the biggest issue when thinking of Fukushima’s future, because it determines when, or even if, residents will be able to return home, she said.

Three years on, however, the government is still stumbling toward a realistic decontamination goal, leaving thousands of evacuees in limbo, she said.

The central government is responsible for decontaminating evacuation zones in 11 municipalities where dosage readings exceed 20 millisieverts per year. But many areas remain untouched or in the midst of decontamination, with their 80,000 residents still displaced as of April 1, by government order.

Jiji Press prepares for a homecoming:

Evacuation Advisory to Be Lifted in Part of Fukushima Oct. 1

The Japanese government suggested plans on Sunday to lift its evacuation advisory on Oct. 1 for an eastern part of the Fukushima Prefecture village of Kawauchi, located within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The government will formalize the lifting at a meeting of its nuclear disaster response headquarters later this month.

It will be the second district where an evacuation advisory has been removed within the former exclusion zone set up after the March 2011 nuclear accident at the plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. <9501>, after the Miyakoji district of the city of Tamura. The no-go zone within the 20-kilometer radius of the stricken plant has been reorganized according to estimated levels of radiation.

While the Asahi Shimbun covers the art front:

Giant watercolor captures devastation of Fukushima nuclear disaster

A giant image of a destroyed reactor building in a nuclear wasteland is drawing crowds at the Sendai Mediatheque cultural hall in Aoba Ward here.

Titled “Kyodaiga de Egakareru Fukushima” (Fukushima drawn in a huge picture), the watercolor of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Hiroshige Kagawa is 5.4 meters high and 16.4 meters wide.

Kagawa, 37, is a native of Miyagi Prefecture.

And for our final item, via NHK WORLD, to be determined:

Thousands of opinions on nuclear restart put

Nuclear regulators say they have received thousands of comments from the public over their draft assessment on restarting a nuclear power plant in southwestern Japan.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said on Friday it has now stopped accepting comments on the Sendai nuclear plant, operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company.

Regulators say the Sendai station is the first since the Fukushima Daiichi accident to meet enhanced government regulations.

By early August, the regulators had counted more than 4,000 comments from the public – a number they say is likely to have grown by Friday.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, glacial melt, nukes, more


Today’s headlines from the world of the interface between people and planet opens again with the story of the year, at least so far.

From Foreign Policy, a frightener by a public health expert:

You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola

  • Experimental drugs and airport screenings will do nothing to stop this plague. If Ebola hits Lagos, we’re in real trouble.

Attention, World: You just don’t get it.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?

Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.

The Associated Press adds a new number:

Ebola may leave 1 million starved

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,000 in West Africa is disrupting the flow of goods, forcing the United Nations to plan food convoys for up to a million people as hunger threatens the largely impoverished area.

Amid roadblocks manned by troops and pervasive fear among the population of the dreaded disease, the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola is increasingly impacting the food supply in three countries.

While none of the regulations restricts the movement of basic necessities, fear and inconvenience are disrupting supplies. Some 1 million people in isolated areas might need food assistance in the coming months, according to the U.N. World Food Program, which is preparing a regional emergency operation to bring food by convoy to the needy.

From the Associated Press again, ramped up efforts:

Liberia expands Ebola treatment in capital

Liberian authorities expanded Ebola treatment centers in the capital Saturday to cope with increasing numbers of patients, while two more airlines announced they were halting flights to the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the deepening crisis.

Kenya Airways and regional carrier Gambia Bird join a number of other airlines in temporarily cancelling flights to avoid transmitting the disease beyond the four countries already affected in West Africa.

The Kenya Airways flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday, said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of Kenya Airways. The decision was made with guidance from the country’s health ministry, Naikuni said. Gambia Bird said it had stopped flying to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

And the New York Times offers hope for a very, very few:

3 Liberian Health Workers With Ebola Receive Scarce Drug After Appeals to U.S.

Three Liberian health care workers who have contracted Ebola received an extremely scarce experimental serum on Friday at a hospital outside the national capital, Monrovia, a Liberian health official said Saturday.

The official, Tolbert G. Nyenswah, an assistant minister of health and social welfare, would not say if any of the three were doctors.

The drug, a mix of monoclonal antibodies called ZMapp, has been tested in animals, but has not been studied for safety or effectiveness in humans. It arrived in Liberia on Wednesday after appeals by leaders there to top officials in the United States and a letter from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia to President Obama.

From the New York Times again, a quackery alert:

Agencies Issue Warnings Over Bogus Ebola Cures

Panic over Ebola has the makers of dietary supplements aggressively targeting Africans, claiming to have a cure for the lethal virus.

Late this week, both the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug Administration issued strong warnings about false Ebola cures. The latter threatened American companies with penalties if they continue making such claims. Neither agency listed products or companies they accused of fraud or explained why they had acted so suddenly.

Nigeria’s health minister was widely reported on Thursday to have endorsed an American nutritional supplement, one that the W.H.O. said was an example of the sort of “false rumors of effective products” it was trying to quell.

The Japan Times reassures:

Ebola unlikely to spread to Japan: health ministry

The Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa recently is unlikely to spread to Japan, health ministry officials say.

Although the probability is deemed low, Japan is making preparations at international airports and other entry points to deal with the possible arrival of Ebola-infected people, the officials also say.

“This is not an unknown disease and we have a system for dealing with it, so the disease is unlikely to spread (in Japan) even if an infected person appears,” a health bureaucrat said. “In developed countries, fatality rates are said to be around 20 percent.”

From the Associated Press, another consequence:

US Basketball: No Africa trip after Ebola outbreak

The U.S. national team has canceled a trip to Senegal after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Americans were scheduled to interrupt their World Cup of Basketball preparations to travel to the African continent for the first time, conducting a joint clinic on Aug. 27 with the Senegal national team. They planned to tour Senegal’s Goree Island and attend a reception hosted by the Senegalese government.

But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Friday the Americans had no choice but to call off the trip because of the risk involved with Senegal’s location near countries where the outbreak has been deadly.

SINA English covers lust for bucks amidst a plague:

Chinese investors’ enthusiasm toward Africa undiminished despite Ebola outbreak

Nigeria, a magical land that raises the biggest population in Africa and boasts the continent’s biggest economy, is like a magnet that keeps attracting Chinese investors.

Even the current rampant outbreak of Ebola virus could not dampen the enthusiasm of Chinese entrepreneurs, who keep coming into the country to build bridges, establish factories and farms, bringing changes to the country and the life of people living there.

And from Defense One, looking for help, Pentagon style:

The Pentagon Wants You to Help Them Find the Next Pandemic

Ever heard of Chikungunya? It’s a mosquito-borne virus that causes joint pain and fever and can be debilitating. It’s also spreading fast, having hit the Americas for the first time in decades at the end of last year and new cases were reported in Florida this last month. There is no official cure, yet, but recent research into a vaccine shown promise.

If you can build a model for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, explain where it’s going next, and do it by the end of September, they’ll give $150,000.

The initial submission, the entry exam if you will, should “contain a detailed description of the planned data sources and model applicability.” That has to be in by Sept. 1. It should include “predictions for the next six months, followed by five monthly update submissions, due on the first of each subsequent month, with predictions for the remaining period of the challenge.”

That model should include items like this, via the London Daily Mail:

Government scientist took shortcuts in handling deadly bird flu virus and then tried to cover up dangerous cross-contamination, CDC says

  • Scientist took shortcuts to speed up the work and accidentally contaminated the samples, mixing a deadly strand with a benign one
  • Accident occurred at Center for Disease Control HQ in Atlanta, Georgia, in January, a new report found
  • CDC shipped a virulent avian flu virus rather than a benign strain to a poultry research laboratory of the Department of Agriculture
  • No one became infected and the pathogen was destroyed
  • Took CDC six weeks to admit to the blunder
  • Follows the recent exposure of dozens of employees to live Anthrax

From the Christian Science Monitor, the melting point:

Humans now the major cause of alpine glacier melt, researchers say

  • The researchers estimate that between 1990 and 2010, some 69 percent of the mass lost by the world’s alpine glaciers can be traced to human influence – basically global warming.

Retreating alpine glaciers in a warming world may seem to have an obvious connection. But glaciers respond to environmental changes, well, glacially. At any point, it’s hard to tell how much of a glacier’s retreat is due to human-triggered factors now and how much is due to natural factors that might have held sway years ago, researchers say.

Now comes an analysis estimating that between 1990 and 2010, some 69 percent of the mass lost by the world’s alpine glaciers can be traced to human influence – basically global warming. That compares with only 25 percent traceable to human influence averaged over the entire study period of 1850 to 2010. The team picked 1850 since that is when a prolonged, modest cooling period known as the Little Ice Age, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, ended.

The study shows that throughout the 160-year period, an increasing proportion of mass loss could be traced to human influence, which becomes significant from about 1950 on, notes Ben Marzeion, a researcher at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Innsbruck in Austria who led the team performing the analysis.

CIP Americas covers another environmental dilemma:

Coffee, a crisis about to explode

The dual plagues of blight and price fixing are causing the scarcity and high prices of the fragrant bean, but the real problem for communities is the need to grow other foods.

“The scarcity of coffee and the price increases will have an affect on the indigenous population,” warns Eliseo Gómez Álvarez, member of a small association of coffee growers in the community of San Pedro, in Chenalhó, in the highlands of Chiapas. Jorge Santiago, who works alongside the local communities, explains that “the coffee economy is not an alternative, they have to be able to produce corn and other foods.”

During the months of January and February 2014, coffee prices rose in Chiapas. One explanation was coffee rust, a fungus that infects coffee trees. However, as local experts explain, there are many factors working together to turn production into a crisis. “There’s not far to go until the situation becomes explosive,” explains Javier Galván, member of the coffee network of the National Union of Regional Autonomous Rural Farmworker Organizations (UNORCA, in Spanish).

And from north of the border. Alien invaders via CBC News:

Goldfish dumped by Coquitlam pet owners become invasive species

  • City says goldfish just one of several invasive species breeding in local lakes where they were dumped

They’re easy to take care of, inexpensive and entertaining, but goldfish and other aquatic pets including exotic fish, turtles, bass and carp are getting into local waterways and breeding and competing with native species.

In Coquitlam, so many goldfish are winding up in Como Lake that the city is cracking down with hefty fines ranging from $2,500 to $250,000.

David Scott, from Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, said there’s good cause for concern. “If you have non-native species that become established in let’s say the Fraser River, they would be competing and influencing dozens of local species that we have here including salmon which are economically important,” he said.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with an NGO [NPO] fraud with friends in high places via Jiji Press:

Tokyo NPO in N-Accident Fraud Scandal May Have Been Dummy

A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization at the center of a fraud scandal related to nuclear accident compensation is suspected to have been a dummy organization since its establishment, it was learned Saturday.

Business reports submitted to the Tokyo metropolitan government by the NPO, established in August 2011, said no operations were carried out in fiscal 2011-2012 for various reasons, showing zeros for all categories of costs such as personnel expenses and energy bill.

The NPO, headed by former Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, did not submit its business report for fiscal 2013 by the deadline at the end of June 2014.

Associated Press sounds a domestic nuclear dilemma:

Delays for SC nuclear plant pressure industry

Expensive delays are piling up for the companies building new nuclear power plants, raising fresh questions about whether they can control the construction costs that crippled the industry years ago.

The latest announcement came this week from executives at SCANA Corp., which has been warned by its builders the startup of the first of two new reactors in South Carolina could be delayed two years or more. SCANA Corp. and plant co-owner Santee Cooper have not accepted that timeline from the companies designing and building the reactors, nor have they accepted responsibility for additional costs.

That announcement may well foreshadow more delays for a sister project in eastern Georgia, and they have caught the attention of regulators and Wall Street.

And for our final item, TheLocal.at covers more nuclear discontent:

Austrian province wants Swiss nuclear power halt

  • The head of the regional Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in Voralberg, Roland Frühstück, wants to exert pressure on the Swiss government to speed up decommissioning of its aging nuclear power reactors due to concerns over safety.

Switzerland has four remaining active nuclear power plants, one of which is the oldest non-military reactor operating in the world.

The Swiss government decided in 2011 to shut down one of the plants, which was commissioned in 1972.  The plant, in Mühleberg, is now more than 42 years old, and has a similar design to the ill-fated Fukushima plant – although it isn’t on the coast in a tectonically active region.

A similar decision has yet to be taken by Switzerland in connection with its Beznau Nuclear Power Plant, which was commissioned in 1969, making it 45 years old.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxic sperm, nukes


We open today’s compendium of environmental news with the latest on the Ebola front, and conclude with a case of Down Under idiocy.

First up, a declaration via Reuters:

Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola

Guinea has declared a public health emergency over an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people in three West African states and is sending health workers to all affected border points, a government official said.

An estimated 377 people have died in Guinea since the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola began in March in remote parts of a border region next to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Guinea says its outbreak is under control with the numbers of new cases falling, but that the new measures are needed to prevent further infection from the other countries at the center of the epidemic.

Global Times covers a clean bill of health:

No confirmed Ebola cases in S. Africa: health authorities

There have been no laboratory- confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in South Africa associated with the current outbreak in West Africa, health authorities said on Thursday.

Given the frequency of travel between southern and western African countries, there is a risk of EVD cases being imported into South Africa, but overall this risk is low, the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said in its latest update on the spread of EVD.

The Associated Press mulls a quandary:

Liberia gets Ebola drug; ponders who should get it

Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday: deciding which handful of Ebola patients will receive an experimental drug that could prove life-saving, ineffective or even harmful.

ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the West African country late Wednesday. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said three or four people would begin getting it Thursday, although another health official said there was only enough for three people.

The government had previously said two doctors would receive the treatment, but it was unclear who else would.

A related story from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Doctors: Ebola drug poses dilemma

Doctors treating a Sierra Leone physician with Ebola defended their decision not to give him an experimental drug, saying Wednesday they feared it was too risky.

Calling it “an impossible dilemma,” Doctors Without Borders explained in detail last month’s decision in response to a New York Times story on the case. It would have been the first time the experimental drug was tried in humans.

The explanation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, further fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective.

Xinhua ads context:

Ebola crisis could continue for months: health official

A U.S. health official warned Thursday it would take at least three to six months to end the Ebola outbreak, which has killed nearly 1,000 in West Africa, and which has prompted a state of emergency in Liberia and Nigeria.

“It will be a long and hard fight,” Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden told a congressional hearing.

The director on Wednesday activated the level of the agency’s response to the outbreak to its highest alert status.

The Wire covers a patient cured:

Ebola-Stricken Doctor Could Be Released From Atlanta Hospital Soon

According to the charity Samaritan’s Purse, Dr. Kent Brantly is recovering nicely from Ebola and is expected to be released from the hospital shortly. From the group’s statement:

“Dr. Kent Brantly is doing very well and hopes to be released sometime in the near future. The staff at Emory Healthcare are taking extremely great care of him. Kent and his wife continue to express appreciation for everyone’s prayers.”

A simple enough sentiment although one not accompanied by a timetable. Reports on Brantly’s condition have been increasingly positive since he arrived in Atlanta two weeks ago.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another false alarm:

Nigerian woman sent to Singapore hospital did not have Ebola: MOH

  • The patient, who is in her 50s, was reportedly suffering from a high fever. She has since been discharged.

Fears of the first case of Ebola surfacing in Singapore on Thursday (Aug 14) proved unfounded.

In a statement, the Health Ministry clarified that there is no suspect case of Ebola in Singapore at present. “The case in question was indeed referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but she does not fit the case definition,” it said. “MOH will continue to closely monitor the situation, and continually assess and calibrate its measures.”

The scare began when a Nigerian woman was transferred from Gleneagles Hospital to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)’s Communicable Diseases Centre on Thursday. She was suffering from a high fever.

Reuters covers an exodus:

U.S. Embassy dependents to leave Sierra Leone due to Ebola

The United States said on Thursday it had ordered family members at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone to depart because of limitations on regular medical care as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

“The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak,” the State Department said in a statement.

From Global Times, a prohibition:

Filipino seafarers prohibited from disembarking in Ebola-stricken countries

The Philippine government on Monday prohibited Filipino seafarers from disembarking in Ebola-hit countries in West Africa.

The order is contained in the guidelines issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease.

“There will be no shore leave for seafarers and no crew change in the ports of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the meantime,” POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac said in a statement.

From Reuters, a suspension:

Korean Air suspends flights to Kenya over Ebola worries

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said on Thursday it will suspend flights to and from Nairobi from August 20 to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Korean Air said it had been operating three return flights from Incheon, South Korea, to the capital of Kenya a week.

The company said it would determine whether to resume the flights based on a change in conditions. It did not elaborate.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, another ounce of prevention:

Airport steps up measures against Ebola

Narita Airport Quarantine is strengthening measures to prevent the Ebola virus from entering Japan, in light of the deadly outbreak in parts of West Africa.

There are no direct flights from West African countries to Narita Airport, but there are fears that residents and travelers from such countries as Guinea, where there have been reports of an Ebola outbreak, may transfer planes at Narita Airport. To address such concerns, airport quarantine has been stepping up efforts to screen out infected individuals with fever by conducting thermographic inspections.

Furthermore, in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration of an international emergency on Aug. 8, quarantine is urging those who have stayed in West Africa to voluntarily declare their visit when entering Japan through public announcements in Japanese and English in addition to information boards and video displays in eight languages.

Anxiety-inducing historic precedent from the Associated Press:

25 Years Ago, a Different Ebola Outbreak in Va.

It had all the makings of a public-health horror story: an outbreak of a wildly deadly virus on the doorstep of the nation’s capital, with dozens of lab monkeys dead, multiple people testing positive, and no precedent in this country on how to contain it.

Americans’ introduction to the Ebola virus came 25 years ago in an office park near Washington Dulles International Airport, a covert crisis that captivated the public only years later when it formed the basis of a bestselling book.

Initially thought to be the same hyper-deadly strain as the current Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds in Africa, the previously unknown Reston variant turned out to be nonlethal to humans. But the story of what might have been illustrates how far U.S. scientists have come in their understanding of a virus whose very name strikes fear, even in a country where no one has fatally contracted it.

Global Times reassures:

Outbreak of Ebola in China unlikely: expert

A Chinese expert said Wednesday that the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in China is extremely low, although the virus may enter the country.

Dong Xiaoping, research fellow with the Institute of Virus of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said the possibility of Ebola entering China through fruit bats, its natural vector, and other animals is very low. However, it may enter China through humans in individual cases. Risks of this kind can be controlled with strengthened checks at customs.

Dong said the spread of Ebola in China is unlikely even if Ebola cases are found, as China is capable of disease control and prevention.

Next, opportunity for the corporate sector, first from USA Today:

NewLink Genetics: Ready to test Ebola vaccine

An Iowa drug developer is preparing to test a possible Ebola vaccine in humans, as scientists race to develop ways to prevent or fight a virus that has killed more than 1,000 people in a West African outbreak.

NewLink Genetics is planning an initial phase of testing involving up to 100 healthy volunteers and is talking with regulators about the study, said Brian Wiley, the company’s vice president for business development. He declined to say whether the drug developer has submitted an application for the research to the Food and Drug Administration.

Chief Financial Officer Gordon Link said Thursday the timing of the testing, which would involve up to 100 healthy volunteers, is uncertain.

MintPress News adds a dimension:

On Use Of Experimental Ebola Drugs, U.S. Under Increased Pressure

  • Officials wrestle with whether it is ethical to withhold potential treatment from some groups, but also if it is acceptable to offer either false hope or true risk to vulnerable populations

The World Health Organization has taken the unprecedented step of declaring that the use of experimental drugs — the efficacy and safety of which have yet to be proven — would be “ethical” to combat the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

The multilateral agency’s unusual backing, announced Tuesday, will further complicate an issue that has suddenly become a major quandary for global health officials, the U.S. government and the very small number of private companies that have been working on Ebola research. Even as issues of access and equity have come to the fore, others are expressing concern that the discussion around experimental treatments could be a distraction.

The backing of the WHO followed a two-day emergency meeting of medical workers, ethicists and others.

“There was unanimous agreement among the experts that [due to] the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at the WHO, told journalists Tuesday, while also releasing an institutional statement on the discussions.

A Chinese company’s venture from Shanghai Daily:

Biotech firm develops kit for diagnosing Ebola

A LOCAL biotech company says it has developed a diagnostic kit for Ebola that has been used in Nigeria with good effects.

Shanghai ZJ Bio-Tech Co said it started to develop the kit for Ebola virus in 2010 at the request of African clients.

Since the recent outbreak in west Africa, some 50 health facilities and laboratories home and abroad have ordered it.

Our final business item from El País, bringing in a corporate ’bot:

Bleach and a robot used to disinfect ebola victim’s Madrid hospital room

  • New tests confirm late Spanish priest Miguel Pajares’ colleague Juliana Bonoha is not infected

The Madrid hospital room in which Spanish priest Miguel Pajares spent the last five days of his life battling the ebola virus began to be disinfected on Wednesday. The task was first undertaken by a team from the Carlos III public hospital using bleach and then by a robot belonging to the same US company that cleaned the Washington, D. C. central post office after the 2001 anthrax attacks and also helped prevent the spread of infection in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in New Orleans in 2005. The hospital has not disclosed the cost of the procedure.

Staff at the center used bleach and disinfectant gas to clean the installations and burnt materials used by both Pajares, who died from the disease on Tuesday, and sister Juliana Bonoha Bohé, who was  repatriated to Spain from Liberia alongside him last week. New tests on Thursday confirmed that the 65-year-old Spanish nun has not been infected by the ebola virus, though she will remain in hospital until the 21-day incubation period has passed.

The firm Steris Iberia is in charge of completing the decontamination process in the room that Pajares occupied. Its technicians sealed the room, leaving in it a robot “similar to a large shopping cart” that is controlled by a computer from outside, explained the company’s head of business, Miguel Ángel Valdeolivas.

Our final Ebola item, a bigger picture from MintPress News:

Ebola And Climate Change: How Are They Connected?

  • In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans

In 2006, a study published in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene revealed that Ebola, a “violent hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal and external bleeding,” would be more frequent with global warming due to its intermittent connection to wildlife and climate. In 2008, another study reiterated the same fears, noting that Ebola outbreaks would be among a cluster of other viral diseases gaining momentum, such as bird flu, cholera, plague and tuberculosis.

“We are calling for increased attention and action in developing global monitoring networks to look at a wide variety of infectious diseases in a wide variety of wildlife since they are such sensitive indicators of the health of the systems in which they live,” said veterinarian William Karesh, Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) vice president of global health programs, back in 2008.

In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans. According to researchers, the virus is typically found in wildlife, and transmission from animals to humans occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids, causing a “spillover” in species. The virus can also be contracted from another human being when a person is in direct contact with infected blood, vomit or feces during contagious periods, putting health workers in West Africa primarily at risk.

From the Guardian, our first water woe:

Tibet’s glaciers at their warmest in 2,000 years, report says

  • Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to Asia’s main rivers including Yellow, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Salween

The Tibetan plateau, whose glaciers supply water to hundreds of millions of people in Asia, were warmer over the past 50 years than at any stage in the past two millennia, a Chinese newspaper said, citing an academic report.

Temperatures and humidity are likely to continue to rise throughout this century, causing glaciers to retreat and desertification to spread, according to the report published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

“Over the past 50 years, the rate of temperature rise has been double the average global level,” it said, according to the report on the website of Science and Technology Daily, a state-run newspaper.

Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to several of Asia’s main rivers that originate from the plateau, including China’s Yellow and Yangtze, India’s Brahmaputra, and the Mekong and Salween in southeast Asia.

In May, Chinese scientists said Tibetan glaciers had shrunk 15% – around 3,100 sq miles (8,000 sq km) – over the past 30 years.

A food perspective from Global Times:

Concerns over grain supply as North China suffers worst drought in 63 years

The worst drought in 63 years in North China has badly hit three major grain producing regions, sparking concerns over nationwide grain supply.

Liaoning, Jilin and Henan provinces have seen the lowest levels of precipitation in the last six decades. Another nine regions, including Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces as well as Inner Mongolia, are also bearing the brunt of the severe drought, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The prolonged drought has affected 4.39 million hectares of cropland and 2.35 million people across the country, people.com.cn reported Wednesday.

Another water woe, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Ingredients in “fracking” fluids raise concerns

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The researchers say that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The scientists presenting the work yesterday at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) said that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

An ACS release reports that William Stringfellow, Ph.D., says he conducted the review of fracking contents to help resolve the public debate over the controversial drilling practice. Fracking involves injecting water with a mix of chemical additives into rock formations deep underground to promote the release of oil and gas. It has led to a natural gas boom in the United States, but it has also stimulated major opposition and troubling reports of contaminated well water, as well as increased air pollution near drill sites.

And from The Real News Network, another potentially alarming water worry, this time in the form of privatization:

Is Baltimore City’s Water Supply Up For Privatization?

  • City Hall denies the charge, but workers and advocates say an upcoming water contract could be a foot in the door for privatization

BBC News covers iDetox:

Apple bans two hazardous chemicals from assembly lines

Apple has banned two potentially hazardous chemicals from being used in the final assembly process at 22 of its iPhone and iPad production plants.

Benzene, which is a carcinogen, and n-Hexane, which can cause nerve damage, will no longer be used in cleaning agents or degreasers at the facilities, the firm said.

The move follows a campaign urging the tech giant to scrap the substances.

China Daily bans dosed up American pig meat:

US pork halted, additives feared

China stopped importing pork from six processing and six cold storage facilities in the United States on Wednesday to enforce its ban on the use of a feed additive that promotes lean muscle growth, the US Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday.

To ensure food safety, China had in March said that third-party verification was necessary to ensure that US pork shipped to the country is free of the additive ractopamine, which is sold for hog farm use as feed additive.

Ding Lixin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, said such quality control measures are commonplace in the domestic market, especially the checks to trace the presence of ractopamine in pork. The new move indicates that the government is implementing quality checks on imported pork products also.

From Spain, poisoned sperm via TheLocal.es:

Judge demands study on ‘Spain’s worst semen’

A judge in the Catalan city of Tarragona has ordered an investigation into the possible health impact of the area’s chemical industry after discovering that only six per cent of local men have fully mobile sperm.

The enquiry was launched yesterday after a judge studied a complaint made in 2010 by the environmental group L’Escurçó.

The group cited a 2002 study showing that the semen of 53 per cent of Tarragona’s men had semen which did not measure up to World Health Organization parameters.

The judge has now asked the Civil Guard to identify chemical industry companies in Tarragona which emit substances capable of reducing male fertility.

On to today’s episode of Fukushimapocalypose Now! with alarming news from the American Genetic Association:

Fukushima’s legacy

  • Biological effects of Fukushima radiation on plants, insects, and animals

Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays, limiting the information that could be gained about the impacts of that historic disaster. Determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, scientists began gathering biological information only a few months after the disastrous meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011. Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds.

A series of articles summarizing these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure.

“A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” stated Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.

From the Guardian, hot times to come in the Outback?:

Aboriginal people can still apply to use land for nuclear waste, says minister

  • Ian MacFarlane tells traditional owners in Tennant Creek that the process would remain open until November

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory can still apply to offer their land as a nuclear waste dump despite the collapse of government attempts to nominate Muckaty Station, the industry minister has said.

Ian MacFarlane met traditional owners, members of the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust and community members in Tennant Creek on Thursday, where he announced that the option to volunteer their land for a radioactive waste management facility would remain open until 30 November this year.

Muckaty had spent almost 10 years mired in bitter negotiations and legal battles, since the NLC lobbied for Aboriginal people to volunteer a site after former prime minister John Howard legislated for the first nuclear waste disposal facility in 2005.

And for our final item, the Guardian covers Aussie idiocy:

Tony Abbott adviser warns of threat of ‘global cooling’

  • Opponents label comments ‘terrifying’ after Maurice Newman writes opinion piece in the Australian newspaper

The Abbott government’s chief business adviser, Maurice Newman, has warned that Australia is ill prepared for global cooling owing to widespread “warming propaganda” in his latest critique of mainstream climate science.

Newman, who chairs the prime minister’s Business Advisory Council, said there is evidence that the world is set for a period of cooling, rather than warming, leading to significant geopolitical problems because of a lack of preparedness.

Adam Bandt, deputy leader of the Greens, said Newman’s comments were an “embarrassment to the government”.

Chart of the day: Cal drought levels unchanged


From the United States Drought Monitor, some qualified good news for the Golden State. There’s been no change in the last week in the amount of California engulfed in catastrophic levels of drought, though most of the state is listed at the most devastating level, “Exceptional Drought.” Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

 

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, frackin’ toxins


Today’s events from the interface of people and planet begins, once again, with the latest Ebola news, first from the New York Times:

Using a Tactic Unseen in a Century, Countries Cordon Off Ebola-Racked Areas

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is so out of control that governments there have revived a disease-fighting tactic not used in nearly a century: the “cordon sanitaire,” in which a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out.

Cordons, common in the medieval era of the Black Death, have not been seen since the border between Poland and Russia was closed in 1918 to stop typhus from spreading west. They have the potential to become brutal and inhumane. Centuries ago, in their most extreme form, everyone within the boundaries was left to die or survive, until the outbreak ended.

Plans for the new cordon were announced on Aug. 1 at an emergency meeting in Conakry, Guinea, of the Mano River Union, a regional association of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries hardest hit by Ebola, according to Agence France-Presse. The plan was to isolate a triangular area where the three countries meet, separated only by porous borders, and where 70 percent of the cases known at that time had been found.

The Guardian add complications:

Ebola epidemic heightened by poor facilities and distrust of healthcare

Children are dying of preventable diseases all the time in Africa. The nastiness of the Ebola outbreak shouldn’t let us forget that

In June and July approximately 5,000 women and children in Sierra Leone died of diseases. The vast majority of these deaths were avoidable. For women and children in Sierra Leone, June and July were just like any other month: unnecessarily dangerous and largely forgotten.

The Ebola outbreak in the country killed 233 people during the same period, and the story made headlines around the world. Why do the relatively small number of people dying of Ebola occupy the world’s media while the thousands of women and children who die of other illnesses barely get mentioned? Is it an attempt to raise awareness, mobilise resources and halt the epidemic? Or is sensationalism to blame? Children dying in Africa is old news, while an Ebola outbreak sounds like the setting for a Hollywood blockbuster.

The people in the global health community, a nebulous conglomerate of UN agencies, NGOs, charities and academic institutes, who spend most of their lives in relative obscurity desperately tying to raise awareness and funds, now appear on news bulletins and in the newspapers. Understandably, the focus of their discourse is the pathophysiology, containment and treatment of the Ebola outbreak. There are the predictable calls for more funding to be allocated to neglected tropical diseases.

BBC News identifies the latest addition to the at-risk list:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Kenya was vulnerable because it was a major transport hub, with many flights from West Africa, a WHO official said. This is the most serious warning to date by the WHO that Ebola could spread to East Africa.

The number of people killed by Ebola in West Africa has risen to 1,069, the WHO said in its latest update.

The Guardian adds a donation:

Ebola: Canada to donate experimental vaccine to the WHO for use in Africa

  • Canada has so far produced only about 1,500 doses of vaccine, which has not been tested on humans

Canada will donate a small quantity of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed in its government laboratory to the World Health Organization for use in Africa, the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.

The decision to donate the vaccine came after the WHO said on Tuesday that it was ethical to offer untested drugs to people infected by the virus.

The Canadian government will donate between 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine, with the final number dependent on how much Canada holds back for research and clinical trials. The government will also keep a small supply in case it is needed domestically.

The Hill plays catch-up:

Governments scramble to develop Ebola drugs

Governments and drugmakers are scrambling to develop new treatments for the Ebola virus now that the World Health Organization (WHO) has eased restrictions on untested vaccines.

The United States government is putting cash into experimental treatments, and on Tuesday, gave $4.1 million to the drugmaker BioCryst to advance its Ebola drug BCX4430, the company announced Wednesday.

The North Carolina pharmaceutical company in 2013 had received a five-year, $22 million contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop the drug but is now being given extra funding to speed up trials.

China Daily makes a plea:

Ebola collaboration urged

  • US, China teamwork in Africa could leverage both countries’ strengths

With teams of researchers and medical experts in West Africa, the US and China should concentrate their efforts on working together to combat the Ebola epidemic, showing that the two countries can cooperate for the common good, experts said.

“The US and China have comparative advantages: China has medical teams on the ground and the US has advanced technologies and disease-control expertise,” said Yun Sun, a fellow at the Stimson Center who previously focused on China-Africa relations at the Brookings Institution.

“Through inter-governmental coordination, it is possible to coordinate their individual aid efforts to maximize results.”

Deutsche Welle issues an evacuation call:

Germany urges citizens to leave Ebola-hit nations

The German government has urged nationals to leave three countries in west Africa affected by the Ebola virus. The outbreak has now killed more than 1000 people, including a second prominent physician in Sierra Leone.  

Following a meeting of a crisis unit working to stem the ongoing Ebola outbreak, Germany on Wednesday updated its travel warnings for the hardest-hit regions.

“It was decided that all German nationals who are in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are called upon to leave due to the still-critical situation,” foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told reporters, adding that German medical personnel needed on the ground were “explicitly exempt.”

German embassies and consulates in the three countries would remain open, Schäfer also said.

Want China Times calls an alert:

Customs alert against Ebola in China

The Chinese customs authority said Tuesday it has asked customs checkpoints across the country to strengthen inspections to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering China.

The General Administration of Customs (GAC) said customs inspectors were told to carry out stricter inspections on transportation facilities, goods and materials from regions affected by Ebola.

Customs checkpoints nationwide were also asked to closely cooperate with the quarantine authority in case of any suspected infections.

The Christian Science Monitor poses a question:

Ebola and ethics: Are rich nations doing enough to fight the outbreak?

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a matter of justice and ethics, experts said Tuesday. This has to do with medical testing and international funding.

The battle to contain the Ebola virus is not just about disease control in West Africa, it’s also about global ethics.

The ethical issues include questions about when experimental treatments should be used in the current outbreak and who gets them. But they also include whether greater global coordination is needed on health policy before such an outbreak occurs.

That’s partly a matter of money. In this case, a public-health emergency is centered in some of the world’s poorest nations – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These are countries that haven’t set up the basic disease-response infrastructure called for by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

And for our final Ebola item, there’s this from Nextgov:

Hacked Yahoo News Tweet Reports Atlanta Ebola Outbreak

A prominent publication’s Twitter feed announced Sunday afternoon the Ebola disease had spread beyond an Atlanta hospital where two infected Americans are quarantined, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

“BREAKING: EBOLA OUTBREAK IN ATLANTA!” a Yahoo News tweet blared. “Estimated 145 people infected so far since Doctors carrying the disease were flown in from Africa.”

Few of the hundreds of people who retweeted the message seemed to take it seriously.

SINA English opens today’s water woes:

N. China province suffers worst drought in 63 years

North China’s Liaoning Province is suffering the harshest drought in 63 years, and things could get worse.

Since July, the province has received the least precipitation since meteorological records began in 1951, the provincial meteorological bureau said in a statement.

The lingering drought has affected a majority of the province,devastating 2 million hectares of crops. The drought may affect more crops with forecasts predicting less-than-normal rainfall for the remainder of August, the statement said.

The San Francisco Chronicle brings it closer to Casa esnl:

California drought: San Francisco puts caps on watering

San Francisco on Tuesday joined a growing number of cities that are rationing water amid a statewide drought, imposing a mandatory 10 percent reduction on outdoor watering.

The mandate, which requires customers to use no more than 90 percent of what they used outdoors in 2013, is meant for all the agency’s customers. But it will be enforced mostly on large accounts that use water outside exclusively, including golf courses, shopping malls and office parks.

Enforcement is limited because water meters at most homes and businesses don’t distinguish between indoor and outdoor consumption.

And the Contra Costa Times brights it to our doorstep:

EBMUD outlaws wasting water, but sets no fines for violators

Two of the Bay Area’s largest water agencies on Tuesday took steps to reduce outdoor water use, but stopped short of penalizing residential customers.

Responding to a state water board push for stronger conservation measures statewide, the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board outlawed water wasting practices such as flooding gutters and watering lawns more than twice a week — practices it previously only asked customers to avoid.

The board, however, said it wouldn’t fine customers as is done in some other areas with more severe water shortages such as Dublin, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.

From the Los Angeles Times, another kind of water woe:

Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

And an earlier story by the same Los Angeles Times reporter, Neela Banerjee:

Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in water at fracking sites

Water samples collected at Colorado sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas show the presence of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer, scientists reported Monday.

The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River, where wastewater released during accidental spills at nearby wells could wind up.

Tests of water from sites with no fracking activity also revealed the activity of so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. But the levels from these control sites were lower than in places with direct links to fracking, the study found.

From the Guardian, another fracking anxiety:

Fracking’s impact on wildlife remains unknown, study finds

  • Lack of data on pollution and habitat loss makes it hard to gauge wider effect of shale gas development in North America

A decade into North America’s fracking boom, the impact on wildlife and the environment remains largely unknown, according to a new study.

“We’re conducting a giant experiment without even collecting the important data on the water, air, land or wildlife impacts,” said Sara Souther, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, one of the co-authors of the peer-reviewed research examining the environmental impacts of shale gas development in the US and Canada.

Although the technique of hydraulic fracturing shale has been used for at least 20 years, there is “surprisingly little research” on impacts, found the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“We do know chemical contamination of ground and surface water is happening all the time but no one knows what the impacts are because the data isn’t being collected,” Souther said.

After the jump, another fracking woe, a petro protest, poison in the home, Canada’s lax environmental laws, a poisonous alien invader, and pot-powered batteries. . .. Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, weather, water, FukuFolly


Plus ad woes and household toxics. And as with today’s InSecurityWatch, a long post cuz we wuz under the weather.

We open with the first Ebola story, via the Los Angeles Times:

Spanish priest becomes first European to die in Ebola outbreak

A 75-year-old Spanish priest suffering from the Ebola virus died Tuesday in an isolation ward in Madrid — the first European death from the outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa and the first known death on European soil.

Miguel Pajares died around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Madrid’s Carlos III Hospital, Spanish officials announced.

A Roman Catholic missionary, Pajares was airlifted Aug. 7 from Liberia, where he is believed to have contracted the deadly virus at a hospital where he worked. Thousands of Spaniards had joined a social media campaign urging their government to rescue and repatriate him. He was the first Ebola patient evacuated to Europe amid the current, fast-spreading outbreak in Africa, which is already the worst in history.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ivory Coast bans flight from three states

Ivory Coast has banned all passenger flights from three countries hit by Ebola in an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

It is the only country, after Saudi Arabia, to impose such a ban, amid mounting concern about the outbreak which has killed nearly 1,000 people.

The ban covers Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are worst affected by Ebola, Ivorian officials said.

From the Guardian, another case:

Ebola: Nigeria confirms new case in Lagos

  • Health minister says nurse who came into contact with American Patrick Sawyer is 10th confirmed Nigeria case

Nigeria has confirmed a new case of Ebola in the financial capital, Lagos, bringing the total number in the country to 10.

The health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the latest confirmed case was a female nurse who came into contact with a Liberian-American man, Patrick Sawyer, who died of Ebola in a Lagos hospital on 25 July.

Another nurse who had contact with him died last week, while seven other people have been confirmed to have the virus in the city, he added. “The 10th case actually was one of the nurses who also had primary contact with the index case. When he [Sawyer] got ill, we then brought her into isolation,” the minister told a news conference in Abuja. “We just tested her over the weekend. So, that’s what made it 10. So, between Friday and today we had one additional case. That brings it to 10 and the 10 includes the index case.”

SINA English covers a Chinese angle:

Eight Chinese quarantined in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone

Eight Chinese medical workers have been placed in quarantine in Sierra Leone, as health experts grappled on Monday with ethical questions over the use of experimental drugs to combat the killer Ebola virus.

Gripped by panic, west African nations battling the tropical disease ramped up drastic containment measures that have caused transport chaos, price hikes and food shortages.

Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone Zhao Yanbo told journalists seven doctors and one nurse who treated Ebola patients had been placed under quarantine, but would not be drawn on whether they were displaying symptoms of the disease.

The Guardian covers a U.S. quarantine:

Husband of American Ebola patient arrives for quarantine in Georgia

  • Three missionaries arrive in US from west Africa for three-week quarantine but do not show signs or symptoms of Ebola

The husband of a woman being treated for Ebola in a Georgia hospital is among three quarantined missionaries who arrived in the US on Sunday night after departing west Africa, where they worked with patients infected with the deadly virus.

David Writebol and the other aid workers do not show signs or symptoms of Ebola, but they will be quarantined for at least three weeks as a safety precaution.

The missionaries are with SIM USA, a Christian mission organization that sends volunteers abroad to provide humanitarian aid and “evangelize the unreached”.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore gives the go-ahead:

WHO approves experimental Ebola drugs

The World Health Organisation authorised on Tuesday (Aug 12) the use of experimental drugs to fight Ebola as the death toll topped 1,000 and a Spanish priest became the first European to succumb to the latest outbreak.

The declaration by the UN’s health agency came after a US company that makes an experimental serum called ZMapp said it had sent all its available supplies to hard-hit west Africa.

“In the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny told reporters in Geneva, following a meeting of medical experts on the issue.

But The Hill notes that victory was largely symbolic:

More Ebola drugs may be months away

It will take months to produce even a small batch of a promising new drug to counter Ebola, according to U.S. health officials.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s drug ZMapp has shown some promise. The drug has been used to treat two Americans who have contracted Ebola.

But the company said Tuesday it has run out of supplies.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says it will take months to make more of the drug. Even in that timeframe, the company will only be able to produce less than a hundred treatment courses.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Liberia to receive experimental Ebola drug from the US

The US government has confirmed that it will send doses of an experimental Ebola drug to treat doctors in Liberia. The treatment has been so far used on just three people, however, there is no vaccine for the virus.

US President Barack Obama and the Food and Drug Administration approved the request Monday to send the experimental drugs to Liberia, the West African nation’s government said in a statement.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc, which makes the drug ZMapp, released a statement on their website that said, “In responding to the request received this weekend from a West African nation, the available supply of ZMapp is exhausted.”

“Any decision to use ZMapp must be made by the patients’ medical team,” it said, adding that the drug was “provided at no cost in all cases.”

TheLocal.de covers a negative:

German student tests negative for Ebola

Rwandan authorities said on Tuesday that a German man put in isolation with fever had tested negative for the deadly tropical disease Ebola.

“We would like to inform you that the suspected case of Ebola tested negative,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

“There’s no Ebola in Rwanda.”

United Press International has a tech angle:

Geo-spatial technology to help combat Ebola outbreaks

  • A U.S. company reports it is supplying portable geo-spatial mapping devices to Liberia to aid fight against Ebola outbreak

A U.S. geo-spatial technology company is providing Liberia with portable mapping devices to help in the effort to contain and defeat an outbreak of Ebola.

The virus outbreak in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria has killed more than 900 people and appears to be spreading.

Addressing Homes LLC said it is supplying its portable AimObserver devices to Liberia without charge as emergency assistance. The AimObserver uses “Mobile Mapper” technology to produce an instant latitude/longitude location for any dwelling, structure or pathway at any point in the world.

TheLocal.no covers a fright:

Ebola scare forces flight to land in Norway

An airplane travelling over Norway was forced to land in Trondheim after an African passenger having a coughing fit triggered an Ebola fear on Monday.

Around 100 passengers were kept back on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Værnes for more than two hours – but with little good reason for the fear.
The dreaded Ebola disease is ravaging throughout several countries in West Africa and countries, like Norway, are on guard to prevent the disease spreading further.

Chief physician in the Stjørdal municipality, Leif Vonen, said to NRK: “There was suspicion of an infectious disease and thoughts went quickly to Ebola. But it became clear from the health situation that this was not the case. The person had just an innocent respiratory infection.”

And South China Morning Post bolsters the defense:

Hong Kong officials to discuss improved Ebola security measures

Health and hygiene officials will meet today to discuss how to improve precautions against the spread of infectious diseases in the wake of the city’s first suspected case of the Ebola virus.

Announcing the meeting, Centre for Health Protection Controller Dr Leung Ting-hung defended the handling of the case on Sunday. The Nigerian man at the centre of the brief scare was found not to have the deadly, incurable disease.

A security guard called the ambulance after the 32-year-old, who was staying at Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, suffered vomiting and diarrhoea, early symptoms of the disease that is spreading through three West African countries.

News On Japan bugs out:

Japan aid agency pulls staff from Ebola-hit nations

Japan’s foreign aid agency said Tuesday it was evacuating two dozen staff from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as the death toll from the Ebola virus continued to mount.

The move came as eight Chinese medical workers who treated patients suffering from the virus were placed in quarantine in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea and Liberia, has been at the centre of the outbreak.

And TheLocal.es reassures:

Ebola risk in Spain is ‘almost zero’: WHO

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said on Monday that the risk of contagion from the Ebola virus in Spain was “almost zero” and described the repatriation of an infected Spanish priest as “correct”.

Speaking to Spanish TV channel Cuatro, WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said that “many” Spanish health workers were well-trained to deal with any possible Ebola cases.

He reassured Spaniards that the WHO and Spain’s Ministry of Health, Social Security and Equality were following international protocols to remain in “constant contact”.

On to the weather, first with the Guardian:

Extreme weather becoming more common, study says

  • Rise in blocking-patterns – hot or wet weather remaining stuck over regions for weeks – causing frequent heatwaves or floods

Extreme weather like the drought currently scorching the western US and the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 is becoming much more common, according to new scientific research.

The work shows so-called “blocking patterns”, where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heatwaves or floods, have more than doubled in summers over the last decade. The new study may also demonstrate a link between the UK’s recent flood-drenched winter and climate change.

Climate scientists in Germany noticed that since 2000 there have been an “exceptional number of summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society”. So they examined the huge meanders in the high-level jet stream winds that dominate the weather at mid-latitudes, by analysing 35 years of wind data amassed from satellites, ships, weather stations and meteorological balloons. They found that blocking patterns, which occur when these meanders slow down, have happened far more frequently.

The Los Angeles Times cites an example close to home:

California’s 1st seven months of 2014 have been its warmest on record

The first seven months of this year have been the warmest on record for California, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters averaged high and low temperatures from January to July for the entire state this year and recorded an average temperature of 60.2 degrees, said Paul Iniguez, National Weather Service Hanford’s science and operation officer. “It’s quite a bit warmer than the previous record,” he said.

The temperature beats the record temperature of 59.3 degrees set in 1934 by nearly a full a degree, he said.

USA TODAY covers the other extreme:

Parts of central U.S. had coolest July on record

Summer heat was on holiday in much of the central U.S. last month: Most of the region had a very cool July, with 13 states seeing July temperatures that ranked among the 10 coldest since weather records began in 1895, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday.

Both Indiana and Arkansas had their all-time coldest July on record. Indiana was a whopping 5.3 degrees below average in July, while Arkansas was 4.6 degrees below average.

While the central U.S. shivered in July, the heat continued to scorch the West. Six states sweltered through one of their 10 hottest Julys on record.

The San Francisco Chronicle consequences of another weather extreme, drought:

130,000 acres charred in blazes across California

Several wildfires raged across Northern California on Monday, with many of them touched off by lightning strikes in dry vegetation, including a fast-growing 9,500-acre blaze in Mendocino County.

Forecasters were calling for more lightning Monday and Tuesday, leaving fire crews worried that new blazes would spark up as fast as they could control other ones.

“We’re holding all personnel on just to see what happens when this lightning comes through,” said Capt. John Hotchkiss of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. “A lot of it will depend on whether we have wetting rain with the lightning.”

At least 130,000 acres were burning statewide as of Monday morning, Cal Fire officials said, fueled by extraordinarily dry conditions.

The Los Angeles Times covers another Golden State extreme:

‘Remarkable’ warming reported in Central California coastal waters

Ocean temperatures along the Central California coast experienced a “remarkable” warming period during the first three weeks of July, leading to unusual encounters with some fish species, scientists reported.

The warmer ocean correlated with weaker winds, which reduced coastal upwelling, allowing warmer water to move inshore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The warming is related to unusual weather pattern seen in the Sierra Nevada, where recent thunderstorms have pummeled dry forest lands with bursts of rain and lightning, Nate Mantua, Team Leader of Landscape Ecology for Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said in an email.

Bloomberg brings us our first water story, this one with an austerian twist:

L.A. Faces $15 Billion Bill as Pipes Spring Leaks: Cities

Los Angeles is showing its age, and city officials don’t have plans for financing the facelift.

From buckling sidewalks to potholed thoroughfares to storm drains that can’t handle a little rain, the infrastructure that holds the second-largest U.S. city together is suffering from years of deferred maintenance. Bringing pipes that deliver water to 3.9 million people up to snuff could cost $4 billion — more than half the city’s annual operating budget. The bill for repaving streets will be almost that much, according to estimates from a city consultant, and patching or replacing cracked sidewalks will require $640 million.

City Council members recently gave up on a proposal to ask voters for a sales-tax increase to finance street and sidewalk repairs, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has ruled out raising water rates anytime soon to upgrade pipelines.

The San Diego Union-Tribune covers another water woe:

Southwest braces as Lake Mead water levels drop

Once-teeming Lake Mead marinas are idle as a 14-year drought steadily drops water levels to historic lows. Officials from nearby Las Vegas are pushing conservation but also are drilling a new pipeline to keep drawing water from the lake.

Hundreds of miles away, farmers who receive water from the lake behind Hoover Dam are preparing for the worst.

The receding shoreline at one of the main reservoirs in the vast Colorado River water system is raising concerns about the future of a network serving a perennially parched region home to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.

NBC News Digital covers another consequential water woe:

Heartland Water Crisis: Why the Planet Depends on These Kansas Farmers

America’s Breadbasket, a battle of ideas is underway on the most fundamental topics of all: food, water, and the future of the planet.

Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

The Los Angeles Times covers water woes down South:

Brazil’s water crisis amid drought could lead to rationing

A drought in Brazil has led to a water crisis and the country’s largest population center is facing the prospect of rationing.

Brazil’s Public Ministry, a federal regulatory agency, has recommended that Sao Paulo state immediately commence water rationing to avoid a “collapse of reservoirs,” but the state government missed an initial deadline on Wednesday to take action.

Because of scarce rain in 2014, water levels are low, especially at Sao Paulo’s Sistema Cantareira watershed. The Public Ministry says the watershed could soon run dry.

From Reuters, oceanic water woes:

Man-made ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut

Scientists say a man-made “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is as big as the state of Connecticut.

The zone, which at about 5,000 square miles (13,000 sq km) is the second largest in the world but still smaller than in previous years, is so named because it contains no oxygen, or too little, at the Gulf floor to support bottom-dwelling fish and shrimp.

The primary cause of the annual phenomenon is excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf, said Gene Turner, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Ecology Institute.

From BBC News, another kind of water woe:

Mexican mine was slow to report leak, officials say

A private copper mine in north-west Mexico did not immediately alert the authorities that large quantities of a toxic chemical were spilling into a river last week, Mexican officials say.

The authorities in Sonora state said the spill only came to light the next day, after residents downstream noticed the river had turned orange. Some 40,000 cubic metres (10 million gallons) of sulfuric acid have leaked into a tributary of the Sonora river.

The mine is owned by Grupo Mexico. “The company deliberately concealed the accident,” said Cesar Lagarda, an official at the National Water Commission, according to Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper.

After the jump agricultural woes domestic and foreign, toxic spills, household toxins, wildlife woes and a win, fracking fights, nuclear woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, toxics, nukes


One again, the Ebola virus claims the top spot on our collection of headlinies about the intersection of humans and the world they live in, starting with this from Xinhua:

Senegal reports suspected Ebola infection

A Malian national living in northern Senegal has been quarantined in a hospital due to suspected Ebola symptoms, Senegalese News Agency reported Saturday.

The 27-year-old patient had just returned to the northern city of Ourossogui from a trip to Mali, where he was in contact with nationals of Guinea, said the head doctor of the local medical team, adding samples have been sent to Dakar for analysis and the results could be available within 48 hours.

A doctor accompanied by officers of health services has already been dispatched to the city to disinfect the home of the patient and the bike that was used to transport him.

The Associated Press covers a domestic precaution:

US Ebola check means quarantine of missionaries

Missionaries retuning to the United States after working with patients infected with Ebola will be put in quarantine and monitored, health officials said Sunday.

The quarantine will last at least three weeks since the missionaries were last exposed to people infected with the Ebola virus, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said.

The missionaries are with Charlotte-based SIM USA. None of them are sick or have shown any signs of having Ebola, but they agree with health officials that everyone should be as cautious as possible, SIM USA president Bruce Johnson said in a statement.

And the New York Times parses epidemiology:

Tracing Ebola’s Breakout to an African 2-Year-Old

Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak, researchers suspect, was a 2-year-old boy who died on Dec. 6, just a few days after falling ill in a village in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea. Bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guéckédou is at the intersection of three nations, where the disease found an easy entry point to the region.

A week later, it killed the boy’s mother, then his 3-year-old sister, then his grandmother. All had fever, vomiting and diarrhea, but no one knew what had sickened them.

Two mourners at the grandmother’s funeral took the virus home to their village. A health worker carried it to still another, where he died, as did his doctor. They both infected relatives from other towns. By the time Ebola was recognized, in March, dozens of people had died in eight Guinean communities, and suspected cases were popping up in Liberia and Sierra Leone — three of the world’s poorest countries, recovering from years of political dysfunction and civil war.

From BBC News, chaos on the ground:

Ebola virus: Liberia health system ‘overtaxed’

Liberia’s information minister has admitted that the country’s health care system has been overwhelmed by the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Lewis Brown told the BBC the system had been “overtaxed” by the outbreak, but that authorities were doing their best in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

The medical charity MSF said officials underestimated the outbreak and that the health system was “falling apart”.

More from the London Telegraph:

The Liberian slum where Ebola spreads death among killer virus ‘deniers’

Blue crosses on houses in New Kru Town mark the few residences to have complied with the advice of visiting health officials, while countless others rely on prayer and witchcraft to fend off Ebola in Monrovia

When some initial cases first appeared in Liberia’s northern Lofa County back in March, health officials initially thought they had it under control. But in June, a resident of a district of New Kru Town known as Carpet Street died, as did several others. According to Dr Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s chief medical officer, three of the victims passed away while they were being sheltered in a local church – a sign of how many some people believe the disease is a curse that can be cured by prayer or witchcraft.

“We must stop keeping people suspected of Ebola in our churches on ground that we can heal them,” she warned at the time. “The churches are not hospitals.”

Liberian hospitals, however, do not always inspire the kind of faith that people have in Liberian churches. A fortnight ago, one the main local health facilities, Redemption Hospital, was stoned by a mob after a woman died in there from a suspected Ebola case, following nationwide rumours that health workers were themselves passing on the disease. Today, the squat, single storey building offers redemption no more, having

A fear abated from the Associated Press:

Saudi: Suspected Ebola victim did not have virus

A Saudi man who died last week after returning from Sierra Leone did not have the Ebola virus, according to initial international laboratory results, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said.

The ministry said late Saturday that samples submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back negative for the Ebola virus, adding that samples were also sent for testing to a laboratory in Germany. The ministry said the CDC is conducting additional tests to further confirm the negative Ebola finding and determine if the patient was infected with a different virus found in Sierra Leone.

The 40-year-old Saudi national died Wednesday in a hospital isolation ward in the Saudi coastal city of Jiddah after showing symptoms of the viral hemorrhagic fever. He was the only suspected Ebola case in the kingdom and had just returned from a trip to affected Sierra Leone.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore eases another fear:

Man tests negative for Ebola in Hong Kong

A Nigerian man in Hong Kong has tested negative for  Ebola, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV. He had been placed in quarantine after he was suspected of carrying the virus, said Chinese media on Sunday (Aug 10).

According to CCTV, the 32-year-old had arrived in the southern Chinese city from Nigeria on Thursday. He was sent to hospital after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, ditto:

Brampton, Ont. patient tests negative for Ebola

The Ebola virus has been ruled out in patient at a Brampton, Ont., hospital who was placed in isolation on Friday as a precaution after showing flu-like symptoms and travelling from Nigeria.

“I can now confirm a recent case that underwent testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was found to test negative for Ebola virus disease,” said Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, in a statement released early Sunday morning.

Reuters prepares:

U.S. emergency labs ready to work on Ebola drugs if asked

All three U.S. facilities established to quickly make vaccines and therapeutics in the event of a major public health threat say they are standing by to support any U.S. government effort to scale up a treatment for Ebola.

The facilities, called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (ADM), were set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with private industry, to respond to pandemics or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats.

They have the expertise to quickly switch production lines to manufacture, for example, a smallpox vaccine if that scourge were to re-emerge, or an anthrax vaccine, and other life-saving compounds against both natural outbreaks and bioterrorism.

And TheLocal.es prescribes that drug the U.S. says they aren’t sending to Africa:

Spanish priest to receive experimental Ebola drug

A Spanish priest infected with Ebola will be treated with an experimental drug that has been used on two Americans infected with the deadly virus, the government said.

The drug called ZMapp arrived at Madrid’s La Paz-Carlos III hospital where the 75-year-old missionary was being treated in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

Spain’s drug safety agency allowed the “exceptional importation” of ZMapp under a law that allows “the use of non-authorised medications in cases where a patent’s life is in danger and they can’t be treated satisfactorily with an authorised medication,” it said.

From the Christian Science Monitor, an African counter-example:

Uganda offers lessons on how West Africa can contain Ebola outbreak

So far, the current epidemic has killed nearly 1,000 people in four countries, but it hasn’t touched East Africa. Countries like Uganda, which faced a major outbreak in 2000, are prepared with strategies to isolate and treat patients.

Uganda’s experience shows the importance of moving quickly. Indeed, as soon as laboratory tests confirmed that Lukwiya’s patients had Ebola, the government immediately called a news conference with the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control, and major donor nations, asking for assistance.

“In Uganda we have a government with very little shame about infectious disease,” says Roy Mayega, an epidemiologist and lecturer in the school of public health at Makerere University in Kampala. “They are not proud. When there is a crisis, they communicate it quickly.”

Uganda’s Health Ministry immediately blanketed radio stations and newspapers with public service announcements explaining the disease and describing proper procedure for burying the dead — in sealed plastic bags. And crucially, the government hired more than 1,000 local villagers from the area around Gulu and sent them door-to-door, looking for Ebola patients hidden by their families, and offering counsel on treatment and burial.

China Daily sends help:

Chinese Ebola doctors leave for Africa

Chinese disease control experts will leave for three West African nations affected by Ebola on Sunday evening and Monday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) said on Sunday.

The NHFPC announced on Saturday that China will send three expert teams and medical supplies to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to assist the prevention and control of the Ebola virus.

China dispatched emergency humanitarian aid supplies from Shanghai to West African nations hit by Ebola on Sunday.

And from Xinhua, a Cuban alert:

Cuba acts on WHO Ebola alert

Cuban health authorities took steps Friday to protect the country against the Ebola virus, after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert to prevent the spread of the disease.

Niurka Molina, head of the Public Health Ministry’s international disease control, said the measures apply to both travelers and Cuban doctors arriving from Africa, where an Ebola outbreak has claimed nearly a thousand lives.

Thousands of Cuban doctors and healthcare workers are working in Africa, and other regions, as part of the country’s four-decade outreach policy, which has come to be known as medical diplomacy.

Deutsche Welle covers worries in Paris:

Ebola concerns hit home in France

With the World Health Organization now calling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency, the virus is no longer seen as a distant problem. That message is hitting home in France, a major hub for West African air traffic.

So far, no cases have been detected in France, although an Air France flight from Conakry was briefly quarantined in April over an Ebola scare.

“Even if the risk of contamination cannot be ruled out, it remains very low,” says Dr. Francois Bricaire, a specialist in infectious and tropical diseases at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris. “But, in my opinion, the risk of an epidemic appears unlikely. Because from the moment a case is diagnosed, measures will be taken immediately to stop the transmission.”

Still, the country is beefing up its guard. Air France flights from West Africa now screen passengers before departure and French airports watch out for suspect cases. A number of French hospitals, including Pitie-Salpetriere, are equipped with special isolation rooms.

And for our final Ebola headline, Salon ponders the Next Big Thing:

How to survive the next plague: Why we’re unprepared for the outbreak of a super-virus

  • Ebola isn’t going to become a pandemic, but we still need to be better prepared, argues Dr. Stephen Morse

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the West African Ebola epidemic an international health emergency. Since its emergence this spring, the hemorrhagic fever  has killed more than 900 people across three different countries. And since two infected American aid workers returned to Atlanta for treatment, the media has exploded, highlighting any number of horrific (and unlikely) scenarios. But might there be some merit to the fear-mongering? What would happen if a similar disease — say, MERS, or the avian flu — found its way, uncontained, to American soil?

Last week, Salon spoke with Dr. Stephen Morse, professor and director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Certificate program at Columbia University Medical Center. Morse has served on numerous governmental and civilian committees for public health preparedness, most recently at the Department of Defense where he co-directed the Pathogen Countermeasures program.

The Oakland Tribune brings us our first water woes headline:

California drought: Lawmakers consider historic rules to limit groundwater pumping

In what would be the most significant water law passed in California in nearly 50 years, lawmakers in Sacramento are working with Gov. Jerry Brown on a landmark measure to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time.

With an Aug. 31 deadline until the end of the session and billions of dollars at stake, negotiations among farmers, environmentalists, cities and elected officials are reaching a crescendo.

Although landowners who want to divert water from reservoirs and rivers have been required to get a permit from the state since 1914, farmers and cities who tap underground aquifers — California’s largest water source — can pump as much as they want, when they want and with almost no oversight or limits.

One of the accompanying graphics:

BLOG Cal water

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers water woes to the south:

Mexico’s Yaqui Indians Defend Water Rights in Meeting with Senators

Representatives of the Yaqui Indian tribe demanded a halt to the operation of an aqueduct in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora, saying in a meeting with senators that it will leave their communities without water.

“Yaqui elders, men, women, youth and children have come to this city to make ourselves heard because we’re sure that what’s happening on our land is a violation of our rights,” Yaqui spokesman Tomas Rojo said, according to a statement by Mexican civil society organization Serapaz.

Rojo also accused Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padres of continuing “with his crassness of taking our water away with projects like the Independence Aqueduct.”

More than 100 Yaqui Indians, who arrived Friday via caravan in Mexico City to meet with legislators and federal authorities, explained to the senators their position in a long-running dispute with the Sonora government that has included road-blocking protests by the indigenous group.

The Washington Post covers suburban sprawl run amok:

Southeast could become an overdeveloped ‘megalopolis’ in the next half century

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

And our first and only Fumushimapocalypose Now! headline comes from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Fukushima to make decision on soil storage this month

Central and local government officials met in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Friday to discuss the government’s offer of a total of ¥301 billion in financial assistance to the prefecture and two towns there that are candidates for interim facilities to store soil contaminated with radioactive substances released from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At the meeting, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Takumi Nemoto, state minister for reconstruction, presented the national government’s financial support plan to Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato, Okuma Mayor Toshitsune Watanabe and Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa.

Sato, Watanabe and Izawa responded favorably to the offer. The Fukushima prefectural government will decide by the end of this month whether to green-light construction of the facilities to store tainted soil collected during decontamination work.

From the Mainichi, tempting fate in the Arctic:

Russia starts drilling its northernmost oil well

Russia has begun drilling on its northernmost oil well, in the Kara Sea off the northern coast of Siberia.

The well is part of a joint project between the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil to develop the region’s oil reserves, which are estimated at up to 100 billion barrels.

The Russian-American project comes despite deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine, in which each side has hit the other with sanctions.

The Guardian covers sin of fracking omission in Old Blighty:

Fracking campaigners criticise ‘censored’ report on house prices

  • Government urged to publish sections cut from study into impact of shale gas wells on local communities

The government has been criticised for censoring a report into the impact of shale gas drilling that examines the effect on house prices and pressure on local services.

Campaigners are calling for full publication of the study carried out by Whitehall officials, as the government continues to resist the idea of offering compensation to individual householders near proposed fracking sites.

The report, called Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, was written in March and a draft was released under environmental information laws with large portions of the text removed. In particular, the section looking at the effect of drilling on house prices has three missing chunks.

And the Associated Press covers a tar sands recalculation:

Study: Keystone carbon pollution more than figured

The much-debated Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department calculated earlier this year, a new study concludes.

The U.S. estimates didn’t take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would create more pollution, the researchers said.

Outside experts not connected to the study gave it mixed reviews. The American Petroleum Institute found the study to be irrelevant because regardless of the pipeline, the tar sands will be developed and oil will be shipped by railroad if not by pipeline, spokeswoman Sabrina Fang said.

The new estimates, from scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute, were published Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change. Peter Erickson, lead author, said his work implies that the pipeline could basically wipe out reductions from some potential pollution-cutting policies under discussion.

For our final item, LiveScience, well, at least its not chemicals:

Computer Games Better Than Medication in Treating Elderly Depression

Computer games could help in treating older people with depression who haven’t been helped by antidepressant drugs or other treatments for the disorder, researchers say.

In a study of 11 older patients, researchers found playing certain computer games was just as effective at reducing symptoms of depression as the “gold standard” antidepressant drug escitalopram. Moreover, those patients playing the computer games achieved results in just four weeks, compared to the 12 weeks it often takes with escitalopram (also known by its brand name, Lexapro).

The computer games even improved what researchers call executive functions more than the drug did, according to the study. These functions are the thinking skills used in planning and organizing behavior, and their impairment has been linked to depression in elderly patients.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, Fuku’d, more


In the world of people, planet, and their interactions, we begin with the leading story of the recent days, first from the International Business Times:

Liberian Rioters Shut Down Highway To Protest Government Delays In Collecting Ebola Victims’ Bodies

Rioters in central Liberia blocked the country’s busiest highway Saturday to protest the government’s delay in collecting the bodies of Ebola victims. Police raced to the scene to quell the demonstrations before they reached a violent pitch, the Associated Press reported.

“There are reports of dead bodies lying in streets and houses,” Lindis Hurum, the emergency coordinator for the Doctors Without Borders charity group, told the AP. In the central town of Weala, about 50 miles from the capital of Monrovia, several bodies had by lying by the side of the road for two days.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, on Friday declared the Ebola pandemic in West Africa an international public health emergency. The outbreak — the deadliest on record — has so far killed at least 961 people in the region, including nearly 300 in Liberia. Many people have contracted the virus after touching or handling corpses of Ebola victims, the AP noted. Liberia’s government has ordered bodies to be cremated to stem fears the virus would spread via neighborhood burials.

More on the crisis from Deutsche Welle:

Lagos overwhelmed, Nigeria asks for Ebola outbreak help

  • Nigeria has appealed for volunteers to stop Ebola’s spreading. On Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a national emergency over Ebola, which has so far claimed two lives there

Authorities in Lagos, home to 20 million and the largest city in Africa’s most populous country, have said they are facing a shortage of medical personnel. Lagos has nine confirmed Ebola cases, including two deaths.

“I won’t lie about that,” Lagos health commissioner Jide Idris said about the staff shortage Saturday.

Declaring Ebola a national emergency on Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan called on Nigerians to avoid gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, he warned against moving the corpses of people who had died from Ebola.

BBC News takes action:

Ebola virus: Guinea shuts Liberia and S Leone borders

Guinea has closed its borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone to contain the spread of Ebola, which has killed 959 people in the three countries. The latest outbreak is thought to have begun in Guinea, but Liberia and Sierra Leone are currently facing the highest frequency of new cases.

Guinea said it was closing its borders in order to stop people from entering the country.

“We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently,” Health Minister Remy Lamah told a news conference. He added that Guinea had also closed its border with Liberia.

The Guardian has more from on the ground:

Ebola crisis in Liberia brings rumours, hygiene lessons and hunger

  • As aid workers offer health advice on the streets, residents fear emergency measures are starving the capital of supplies

Another day has just broken in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. Outside a block of humble flats on Centre Street, two women in long overcoats jump out of a taxi, avoiding the torrents of rainwater pouring along the gutter as they carry a large plastic bucket. On the porch, a crowd of young homeless men take shelter. They are about to receive a lesson in handwashing, non-contact and recognising symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus. It has killed 249 of their countrymen so far since March, 961 worldwide, and prompted 1,779 reported cases internationally.

The fact that Ebola is spread through bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva means that reducing physical contact has become a national obsession. At any time of day, outside banks, shops and homes, people disinfect their hands with chlorinated water. Shaking hands is forbidden and some have donned latex gloves.

Last week the government ramped up anti-Ebola measures. On Wednesday, Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, declared a state of emergency for 90 days. Her televised statement sent a new wave of fear through communities following two weeks of alarming announcements.

And from the Independent, fears coming closer:

Ebola outbreak: Fears strike Canadian hospital as patient isolated following ‘flu-like symptoms’

A hospital in Ontario, Canada, has isolated a patient with flu-like symptoms after the person was revealed to have recently travelled from Nigeria – one of the Ebola-hit areas.

The measure is just a precautionary one and the patient has not yet been diagnosed with the deadly disease – a virus with a mortality rate as high as 90 per cent and which has swept through west Africa killing 961.

The unnamed patient has been admitted to Brampton Civic Hospital, with a diagnosis yet to come.

Dr Eileen de Villa from, Associated Medical Officer at Peel Public Health said: “Measures that are being taken are indeed precautionary. I mean, there are health concerns ongoing in West Africa at this stage of the game,” reports the Toronto Star.

National Post covers another phase of the crisis:

International response to Ebola outbreak that’s killed almost 1,000 has been slow and inadequate, aid groups say

The international response to the Ebola outbreak that has killed almost 1,000 Africans has been slow and inadequate, and the World Health Organization is at least partly to blame, said spokesmen for two key aid groups.

The WHO on Friday designated the outbreak as an international public health emergency, eight months after it began. On May 18, when the situation seemed to be stabilizing, the Geneva-based organization said the outbreak “could be declared over on May 22.”

The WHO’s leaders “need to do a reality check and step up,” Koen Henckaerts, a health expert at the European Commission’s humanitarian aid division, said in a telephone interview from the Liberian capitol of Monrovia. “There is a lack of coordination among all the different partners.”

From the Associated Press, an interesting aside:

US bots flagged Ebola before outbreak announced

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on an online tool run by experts in Boston that flagged a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in forested areas of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.

HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians’ social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.

“It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what’s happening that’s useful to these public health agencies,” HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein said.

The Economic Times covers another front:

Ebola vaccine to go on trial next month, may be ready by 2015: UN

Clinical trials of a preventative vaccine for the Ebola virus made by British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline may begin next month and made available by 2015, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.

“We are targeting September for the start of clinical trials, first in the United States and certainly in African countries, since that’s where we have the cases,” Jean-Marie Okwo Bele, the WHO’s head of vaccines and immunisation, told French radio.

He said he was optimistic about making the vaccine commercially available. “We think that if we start in September, we could already have results by the end of the year.

Homeland Security News Wire rationalizes:

Quantities of experimental Ebola drug used in U.S. too small to be shipped to West Africa

Nigerian health authorities said yesterday that West African patients infected with the Ebola virus will not have access to experimental drugs being used to treat American cases of the disease for several months, if at all. Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told a press conference he had asked the U.S. health authorities about the unproven medicines used on two American doctors who became infected while treating patients in Liberia, but was told such small quantities of the drug existed that West Africa would have to wait for months for supplies, even if they were proved safe and effective. The two Americans were given the drug ZMapp after being flown to the United States, and appear to be recovering.

Nigerian health authorities said yesterday that West African patients infected with the Ebola virus will not have access to experimental drugs being used to treat American cases of the disease for several months, if at all.

Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told a press conference he had asked the U.S. health authorities about the unproven medicines used on two American doctors who became infected while treating patients in Liberia, but was told such small quantities of the drug existed that West Africa would have to wait for months for supplies, even if they were proved safe and effective.

And from the Los Angeles Times, the more mundane:

Ebola outbreak causes postponement of taekwondo tournament

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has prompted organizers to postpone a large taekwondo tournament in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

The Chika Chukwumerije Sports Foundation event was expected to draw more than 400 athletes from 11 countries in the region.

Taekwondo’s close contact “provides an ideal environment for a highly unlikely spread of the Ebola virus if only one infected person comes to the venue,” Chukwumerije said in a statement.

From the Hindu, Indian precautions:

No Ebola case has been reported in India: Harsh Vardhan

The Indian government is maintaining intense surveillance to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country. A control room with helpline numbers 23063205, 23061469 and 23061302 got operational on Saturday morning at the Health Ministry and it dealt with 30 calls during the day, according to an official statement.

Union Minister for Health Dr. Harsh Vardhan has clarified that India does not have any confirmed or even suspected Ebola virus affected person. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had informed that one Indian passenger had travelled on the same flight in which an Ebola virus patient (a foreign national) was travelling from Monrovia to Lagos. This Indian passenger is back in India. He has been tracked and his health is being regularly monitored. The Health Minister said, “We are happy to share that the person is healthy, fit and fine.”

The Minister expressed satisfaction with the reaction of the general public to the awareness campaign launched by the government. “Most of the callers to the helpline reflected a mature understanding of the collective responsibility in times like this. They wanted to know details about the symptoms and preventive measures,” Dr. Harsh Vardhan said in the statement.

South China Morning Post covers another Asian response:

Hong Kong installs detection systems as WHO declares Ebola a global problem

  • Detection systems installed at Hong Kong’s borders as epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 in Africa is declared international emergency

Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said the risk of the city being affected remained low, but it has stepped up precautions, such as installing detection systems at hospitals and border crossings.

Beijing announced a donation of 30 million yuan (HK$37 million) worth of medical equipment, such as protective clothing, monitoring devices and drugs, to the Ebola-hit areas.

“This is the largest, most severe and the most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of this disease,” said the WHO chief Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun.

For our final Ebola item, Nikkei Asian Review covers the economic front:

Spreading Ebola epidemic has widening economic ramifications

The International Monetary Fund predicts GDP growth in Guinea will be 3.5% instead of 4.5%, as canceled flights hamper business and some farmers leave their fields to escape the virus.

Infectious diseases and disasters are the archenemies of the tourism industry. Japan’s tour companies suffered blows from the SARS and H1N1 epidemics, so they know what could be in store.

Business people in the energy and infrastructure sectors from Japan, China and South Korea make frequent trips to Africa. If the Ebola epidemic spreads to the West and Asia, it could impact a broad range of industries and financial markets.

From the Guardian, a dismal dietary dispatch:

Salmonella trial reveals US food safety relies on self-reporting

  • Three ‘knowingly shipped’ contaminated peanut products
  • Company allegedly failed to act on positive tests

Jurors in the first US federal criminal trial stemming from a deadly outbreak of food-borne illness are learning a disconcerting fact: America’s food safety largely depends on the honour system.

Witnesses say Stewart Parnell and others at Peanut Corporation of America knowingly shipped salmonella-tainted products, and that they sent customers lab results from other clean batches rather than wait for tests to confirm if their products were free of deadly bacteria.

Defence lawyers correctly noted for the jurors that salmonella tests are not even required by federal law.

After the jump, water woes hit critical levels at home and abroad, planning for the inevitable, a Superfund’s Silent Spring, China’s soil pollution crisis, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and Chinese fracking anxieties. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, fishy foes, killers, FukuNews


We big Ebola coverage on an upbeat note from United Press International:

Ebola patient Kent Brantly: ‘I’m growing stronger every day’

  • “I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name,” recalls Kent Brantly

American doctor Kent Brantly, the first known Ebola patient treated in the United States, said his condition is steadily improving in his first public statement since being transported to U.S. shores.

“I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease,” Brantly said in a statement released by Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse.

Brantly was transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after contracting the Ebola virus while treating victims in Libera.

And having delivered a ration of cheer, we promptly bring you a downer, from Dr. Brantly’s own organization via RT America:

Ebola’s spread to US “inevitable”

Program notes:

The World Health Organization on Friday declared an “international public health emergency” over the spreading Ebola outbreak. The rash of infections has killed 961 since March, making it the largest outbreak in history for the virus, and officials warn that its spread to more corners of the world is “inevitable.” Ken Isaacs of aid group Samaritan’s Purse is one of the experts working to combat the spread of the disease, and he sat down with RT’s Manila Chan to explain the perils of the deadly virus.

Next, the alarm sounds, via BBC News:

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of Ebola in West Africa an international health emergency.

WHO officials said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus.

The announcement came after experts convened a two-day emergency meeting in Switzerland.

And from Al Jazeera America, another alarm:

Medical ethicists to meet on use of experimental Ebola drugs

  • WHO announcement comes after controversy over two Americans – but no Africans – being treated with Ebola drug

Medical ethicists will meet next week to discuss the use of experimental medicines in the West Africa Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the talks in the wake of a controversial decision to treat two infected American aid workers with an Ebola “serum,” never before tested on humans, called ZMapp. The move sparked debate over whether using experimental Ebola treatments is ethical — and why Africans have not been offered the same option.

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at the WHO, said in a Thursday statement announcing the meeting. “We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.” The statement did not give a location for the meeting. On Friday, the WHO declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. government is forming a group to consider the same issues.

CBC News analyzes:

Ebola outbreak: it’s not the virus but Africa that’s changed

  • Death toll in West Africa nearing 1,000

Why do health-care workers in West Africa find this current Ebola outbreak, the worst ever, so difficult to control? The strain of the virus, the Zaire, is the same one behind most of the previous outbreaks.

This is not a case where the virus is any different, says Dr. Richard Olds, a tropical disease specialist.

But at least part of the explanation for the current dilemma may be found in how Africa has changed since the first known outbreaks of Ebola in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan.

For one, this outbreak is taking place in parts of Africa that are “much more densely populated, much more urban in their nature and those populations are much more mobile,” says Olds. Also, “these were populations that had never seen Ebola before.”

Urbanization, travel and the personal connections that come with economic development appear to have helped the virus spread. At the same time, a more formidable health-care infrastructure that could go a long way to stopping Ebola before it reaches outbreak status has not kept pace, and without that, Olds says, Ebola is “a little like Russian roulette.”

Al Jazeera America again, with countermeasures:

Travel restricted within Ebola-affected West African countries

  • Restrictions follow reports that families are hiding sick relatives, abandoning bodies in streets

West African countries hard-hit by the Ebola virus have issued travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly disease after reports emerged of families hiding sick relatives and abandoning bodies in the streets.

Soldiers clamped down on people trying to travel to Liberia’s capital on Thursday from rural areas with high rates of Ebola infection, hours after the president declared a national state of emergency.

Similar efforts were underway in eastern areas of neighboring Sierra Leone after officials there launched “Operation Octopus” to try to keep those sick with Ebola in isolation.

On the ground with the New York Times:

‘Don’t Touch the Walls’: Ebola Fears Infect an African Hospital

KENEMA, Sierra Leone — So many patients, nurses and health workers have died in the government hospital that many people in this city, a center of the world’s worst Ebola epidemic, see it as a death trap.

Now, the wards are empty in the principal institution fighting the disease. Ebola stalks the city, claiming lives every day, but patients have fled the hospital’s long, narrow buildings, which sit silent and echoing in the fading light. Few people are taking any chances by coming here.

“Don’t touch the walls!” a Western medical technician yelled out. “Totally infected.”

Some Ebola patients still die at the hospital, perhaps four per day, in the tentlike temporary isolation ward at the back of the muddy grounds. But just as many, if not more, are dying in the city and neighboring villages, greatly increasing the risk of spreading the disease and undermining international efforts to halt the epidemic.

“People don’t die here now,” said the deputy chief of the hospital’s burying team, Albert J. Mattia, exasperated after a long day of Ebola burials. “They are dying in the community, five, six a day.” Mr. Mattia was particularly disturbed that many of the bodies his team were putting in the ground had come from outside the hospital, thwarting attempts to isolate patients and prevent them from passing the disease to others.

Off to Spain and another patient from El País:

Government will cover cost of ebola priest’s repatriation

  • US, England and France request information about the transfer of missionary Miguel Pajares

The Spanish government will cover the costs of transfering a Spanish priest with the ebola virus from Liberia, official sources have been cited as saying by news agency EFE. The San Juan de Dios religious order, to which both Miguel Pajares and his fellow missionary Juliana Bohana Bohé (also brought back from Liberia, but not suffering from ebola) belong, had this morning announced that they would cover the expenses of the operation.

“We assume the cost and the responsibilities that need to be assumed,” said José María Viadero, the director of the Juan Ciudad NGO, to which San Juan de Dios belongs. The religious order counts on 300 hospitals in 52 different countries.

Pajares and Bohé were flown across half of Africa to Madrid in the early hours of Thursday morning. The priest, who has been confirmed as having caught the virus, and the nun, who is not currently showing any symptoms, were then taken in a convoy of more than 12 vehicles to from the Torrejón de Ardoz airbase to the Carlos III hospital in the city center. The San Juan de Dios religious order requested the repatriation from Liberia.

Greek Reporter prepares:

Ebola Outbreak: Greece Takes Special Measures As World Health Organization Declares Emergency

Greece is the latest country to undertake special emergency measures after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus outbreak an international health emergency.

The Greek government alerted all related authorities to report immediately any possible incidents. Greece has also warned its citizens to avoid non-essential travels to Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A Greek man who was suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus has tested positive for malaria, health authorities said Friday.

The Times of India covers preparations on the subcontinent:

India sets up 24-hour Ebola emergency helpline

As the World Health Organisation on Friday issued a global health emergency due to Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak, the government opened a 24-hour emergency helpline and said it has put in place the “most advanced surveillance and tracking system”.

All infected patients in the national capital will be treated at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, a health ministry statement said.

Health minister Harsh Vardhan, however, said there was no reported case in India and one traveller, who landed in New Delhi on July 20 and was confirmed by the WHO as a case of EVD, was found to be healthy. He had been traced to Dwarka in south-west Delhi.

Nature newsblog offers a timely reminder:

Geneticists say popular book misrepresents research on human evolution

  • Posted by Ewen CallawayCategories: Anthropology, Evolution

More than 130 leading population geneticists have condemned a book arguing that genetic variation between human populations could underlie global economic, political and social differences.

“A Troublesome Inheritance”, by science journalist Nicholas Wade, was published in June by Penguin Press in New York. The 278-page work garnered widespread criticism, much of it from scientists, for suggesting that genetic differences (rather than culture) explain, for instance, why Western governments are more stable than those in African countries. Wade is former staff reporter and editor at the New York Times, Science and Nature.

But the letter — signed by a who’s who of population genetics and human evolution researchers, and to be published in the 10 August New York Times — represents a rare unified statement from scientists in the field and includes many whose work was cited by Wade. “It’s just a measure of how unified people are in their disdain for what was done with the field,” says Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-drafted the letter.

Next up, the first of three GMO stories, this one from the Guardian:

Sweet victory for Mexico beekeepers as Monsanto loses GM permit

  • Evidence convinced judge of threat posed to honey production in Yucatán – but firm will almost certainly appeal against ruling

A small group of beekeepers in Mexico has inflicted a blow on biotech giant Monsanto, which has halted the company’s ambitions to plant thousands of hectares of soybeans genetically modified to resist the company’s pesticide Roundup.

A district judge in the state of Yucatán last month overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Roundup-ready soybeans.

The permit authorised Monsanto to plant its seeds in seven states, over more than 253,000 hectares (625,000 acres), despite protests from thousands of Mayan farmers and beekeepers, Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the National Institute of Ecology.

EurActiv takes us across the Atlantic:

GMO cultivation in Europe: A decade of legal battles

The European Union has agreed on a new approach to the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) which allows member states to ban or restrict GMOs in their territory. The agreement should mark the end of a decade of legal problems, but in the context of ongoing EU-US free trade negotiations, vocal GMO opposition from member states and civil society is unlikely to subside.

After a decade of legal battles, the European Union reached an agreement in June 2014, allowing its member states to restrict or ban GMO crops in their territory.

The new president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has backed the new comprehensive legal framework which will give EU member states a legal basis they have been wanting for years.

The EU regulatory system is based on tight safety standards and freedom of choice for consumers and farmers. The tools used to ensure freedom of choice are effective labelling and traceability.

And GM Watch covers scandal:

GM golden rice paper to be retracted amid ethics scandal

AT LONG LAST, the serious breaches of medical and scientific ethics of the GM golden rice trials on Chinese children appear to have been recognised – in this case, by the journal that published the research paper reporting the experiments.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is reportedly retracting the paper. The main concerns appear to be lack of informed consent on the part of the human subjects – neither the children nor their parents were told the rice was GM, nor were they informed of the possible risks. Ethical breaches are among the valid reasons for retracting a study, according to COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics).

While the blame for the fiasco is being placed on the lead researcher, Guangwen Tang of Tufts University, a large part of the responsibility should lie with the Tufts University ethics board that was supposed to be supervising the trial.

After the jump, fishy pollution, lethal players in endangered wildlife smuggling, an old poison lingers, fracking bans, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: GMO failures accelerate


Dramatic evidence that Monsanto’s “killer crops” — plants engineered to produce a bug-killing toxin from a bacterium [Bacillus thuringiensis, shortened to "bt" in corporate-bestowed names]  — are being checkmated by that ol’ Natural Selection comes in the form of this map [click on the image to enlarge] from Testbiotech  via GM Watch:

BLOG GMO fails

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxins, Fuku, folly


Today’s compendium about the world and our troubled relationship with it opens with an Ebola digest, starting with this from the Guardian:

Barack Obama pushes for ‘global effort’ to combat spread of Ebola

  • President claims Ebola can be controlled and contained with the right resources, despite claiming 900 lives in west Africa

Barack Obama has said a global effort is required to combat the spread of Ebola which he blamed on weak and overwhelmed health systems in west Africa.

Speaking at the end of a summit of African leaders in Washington, the president said the disease – which has claimed the lives of more than 900 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – can be controlled and contained with the right resources. A single case has also been confirmed in Nigeria.

“The Ebola virus both currently and in the past is controlled if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place and countries that have been affected are first to admit that what’s happened here is their public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough,” he said. “You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and health workers. As a consequence it spread more rapidly.”

From the Washington Post, deadly scapegoating:

‘God is angry with Liberia,’ local religious leaders say, blaming Ebola on ‘homosexualism’

Amid the reports emerging out of Liberia, it’s difficult to discern what is true and what isn’t. But the fear they carry is undeniable: Fear of the disease, fear of dead bodies, fear that God himself has sent down a terrible plague to blight the people of Liberia for their transgressions.

There are local reports that “armed men” are allegedly trying to poison wells “to kill in the name of Ebola.” There are reports that the government is dumping bodies by the truckload at a mass grave on the west bank of a river and nearby residents fret over water contamination. And there are Reuters reports of bodies lying in the streets of Liberia’s capital Monrovia for days.

The Ebola pandemic — which has killed 887 in West Africa including 255 in Liberia — has terrified people so much that some local leaders discern divine meaning in it. According to Front Page Africa and the Daily Observer, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on Tuesday for all residents to fast for three days and pray for forgiveness.

The London Daily Mail treats the story with typical restraint:

Now Ebola victims are left to rot in the streets: Terrified relatives dump them outside for fear of catching deadly virus

  • Relatives of Ebola victims are dragging their bodies onto streets of Liberia
  • Disease-ridden bodies are left to rot in view of everyone, including children
  • In doing so, relatives hope they will avoid being quarantined by authorities
  • They view Ebola isolation wards in country as death traps, officials claim
  • Last week, Liberia announced raft of tough measures to contain the virus
  • Include imposing quarantines on victims’ homes and tracking their relatives
  • Ebola has claimed the lives of nearly 900 people across West Africa so far

From BBC News, the inevitable:

Liberia declares state of emergency over Ebola virus

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared a state of emergency as the country grapples with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Speaking on national television she said some civil liberties might have to be suspended.

Announcing a state of emergency for 90 days, President Sirleaf said in a statement that the government and people of Liberia required “extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people”.

El País brings it on home:

Spanish priest infected with ebola to be treated in Madrid’s Carlos III hospital

  • Miguel Pajares, 75, contracted the virus while treating another patient

A priest who has been confirmed as the first Spaniard to be infected by the current outbreak of the ebola virus is soon to be brought back to Spain for treatment. Miguel Pajares, aged 75, is one of the 1,600 cases to have been confirmed since March, when the most deadly wave of the condition began. As well as Liberia, where Pajares was based, the epidemic is also affecting Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with nearly 900 deaths reported so far.

The Spanish Health Ministry announced that the government has put into place a plan to repatriate Pajares, “in accordance with the highest security protocols from the World Health Organization.” These include a medical plane staffed by specialized personnel, and strict isolation measures.

According to the Defense Ministry, the aircraft that will collect the priest has been prepared at the Torrejón airbase in Madrid. It is expected to take off at around midday on Wednesday.

From the Los Angeles Times, a call for action:

Three leading Ebola experts call for release of experimental drug

Three leading experts on the Ebola virus said Wednesday that experimental drugs should be provided to Africa, and that if the deadly virus was rampant in Western countries it would be “highly likely” that authorities would give people access to the medications.

A decision to allow two American health workers infected in Liberia to have access to an experimental treatment — while dozens of African doctors and nurses have perished — has ignited a controversy over the ethics of the decision, which reportedly side-stepped Liberian health regulations.
Rise in reported African Ebola cases

The latest figures, through Aug. 4, show that 1,711 people in West Africa have been diagnosed with the disease and 932 have died, the World Health Organization announced.

Bloomberg evaluates:

Ebola Drug Panel Set by WHO to Weigh Unproven Drugs Use

The World Health Organization will convene a panel of medical ethicists next week to explore the use of experimental treatments for Ebola amid the worst outbreak of the disease on record.

An experimental antibody cocktail developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. was used to treat two infected American health workers whose conditions have improved. The WHO’s announcement came after Nigeria’s health ministry said it has written to the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to request access to the drug.

Use of the drug, called ZMapp, is raising questions about whether a medicine that hasn’t been shown as safe in humans should be distributed more widely during the outbreak and, given the limited amount of medicine available, who should get it, the WHO said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times gives the go-ahead:

FDA approves Ebola virus test; vaccine will probably take until 2015

The FDA has authorized use of an unapproved Ebola virus test under a special emergency-use provision, although efforts to develop a vaccine for the deadly illness are unlikely to bear fruit until 2015, officials say.

The test-tube diagnostic test was developed by the U.S. military and is used to detect the Zaire strain of Ebola, which has infected at least 1,711 and killed 932 in West Africa.

“The test is designed for use in individuals, including Department of Defense personnel and responders, who may be at risk of infection as a result of the outbreak,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said in a statement.

And Al Jazeera America adds more context:

Costs have delayed Ebola vaccine for years

  • Promising treatments have never been tested on humans because of expense, not lack of potential

Since March, the Ebola virus has killed at least 932 people in West Africa, the deadliest ever outbreak of the disease, and as the lethal hemorrhagic fever continues its spread, governments are taking drastic measures — from quarantining villages to closing schools — to stem the epidemic.

But perhaps there could have been another option to fight the virus. More than four years ago, a team of U.S. government scientists developed vaccine candidates that shielded monkeys from multiple strains of Ebola. Those vaccines, however, were never tested in human clinical trials — and not because the science wasn’t promising. One small trial on the monkeys, for example, had a 100 percent success rate of protecting the animals from the disease.

The factor preventing such trials in humans, though, has been cost, said Dr. Daniel Bausch, an associate professor of tropical medicine at the Tulane University School of Public Health who is currently stationed at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 6 in Lima, Peru.

MIT Technology Review takes a step back:

Challenges Remain for Technologies to Fight Ebola

  • Efforts to contain Ebola in West Africa suffer from a lack of effective tools to treat and prevent the disease, although several are in development.

Technologies that might prevent the spread of Ebola beyond West Africa are under development, and work could accelerate if the outbreak continues to worsen. But even if a vaccine were available today, deploying it could prove surprisingly difficult.

As of last week, the Ebola outbreak had claimed the lives of 88 percent of the more than 1,000 people who had contracted the virus. The virus causes fever, headache, sore throat, and other symptoms, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. It can lead to internal and external bleeding, and often death.

Ebola has affected relatively small populations in Africa since it was discovered in the 1970s. There has therefore been little incentive for companies to invest in developing treatments or vaccines, experts say. One treatment that has shown promise in animals but has not yet been tested in humans is called ZMapp—a combination of three monoclonal antibodies manufactured in tobacco plants by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals in San Diego. These antibodies are designed to mimic the antibodies the human body naturally produces as part of an immune response that’s typically disabled by the Ebola virus. The monoclonal antibodies attach to a part of the Ebola virus and trigger an immune response that neutralizes any virus particles floating around in the body to keep them from doing additional damage.

Urgent measures from the Associated Press:

Nigeria rushes to get isolation tents for Ebola

Nigerian authorities rushed to obtain isolation tents Wednesday in anticipation of more Ebola infections as they disclosed five more cases of the virus and a death in Africa’s most populous nation, where officials were racing to keep the gruesome disease confined to a small group of patients.

The five new Nigerian cases were all in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people in a country already beset with poor health care infrastructure and widespread corruption, and all five were reported to have had direct contact with one infected man.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization began a meeting to decide whether the crisis, the worst recorded outbreak of its kind, amounts to an international public health emergency. At least 932 deaths in four countries have been blamed on the illness, with 1,711 reported cases.

People’s Daily reassures, sort of:

Health staff at games on lookout for Ebola virus

Citing feasible plans and disease control precautions, the Jiangsu provincial epidemic prevention agency is urging the public not to worry about the Ebola virus during the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.

With 10 days before the Youth Olympics kick off in Nanjing, the number of international visitors has been surging, raising public concern that the crowds – particularly with people from Ebola-hit West Africa – could cause the virus to spread.

“The public doesn’t need to panic as we are sufficiently prepared against the virus, which now remains contained in limited areas of the world,” Tang Fenyang, director of the center’s acute-disease institute, told China Daily on Tuesday.

The New York Times has another Golden State drought story:

Dry California Fights Illegal Use of Water for Cannabis

Amid the state’s crippling drought, many communities are fighting not the mere cultivation of cannabis — which is legal in the state, though subject to myriad restrictions — but the growers’ use of water. Marijuana is a thirsty plant, and cultivating it at a time when California residents are subject to water restrictions has become a sticky issue.

When a statewide drought emergency was declared in January, “the first thing we wanted to address was water theft and marijuana,” said Carre Brown, a supervisor in Mendocino County, a major cannabis hub west of Lake County.

By mid-July, the sheriff there, Thomas D. Allman, had already caught growers siphoning water from springs because wells had run dry too early in the season. “I have told my marijuana team, ‘I want you to fly the rivers, fly the tributaries; let’s prioritize the water diversion,’ “ Sheriff Allman said.

Grist has another:

Don’t worry, Californians can paint their dead lawns green

When California regulators approved $500-a-day fines for overwatering lawns, suburbanites across the state gasped, “However will I keep my neighbors in check without a superior lawn to lord over them??”

Now, a solution: Slap on a fresh coat of green paint. The specially formulated (and supposedly nontoxic) grass dye lasts three to six months. It’s catching on. “Companies that promise to paint lawns are cropping up all over California,” National Journal reports. “The service lets homeowners cut back on water use without sacrificing curb appeal.”

The resulting “glittering shade of emerald green” might be even flashier than the real deal. “People think it sounds ridiculous when they first hear about it,” Jim Power, operations manager for LawnLift, told National Journal. “But then they try it, and they’re instantly hooked.”

From Truthout, about damn time:

Feds to Phase Out GMO Farms and Neonicotinoid Pesticides at Wildlife Refuges

After facing a series of legal challenges from environmental groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out the use of genetically modified (GMO) crops and controversial neonicotinoid pesticides at farming projects on national wildlife refuges.

National Wildlife Refuge System chief James Kurth has directed the agency to stop using GMO crops and neonicontinoids on refuge farms by January 2016, according to a July 17 memo obtained by activists last week. The Fish and Wildlife Service is the first federal agency to restrict the use of GMOs and neonicotinoids in farming practices.

Neonicitinoids are a class of insecticides related to nicotine that act as nerve agents and are typically sprayed on crop seeds to kill insects. Scientists suspect that some neonicitinoids are responsible for declining populations of pollinating insects, and researchers in the Netherlands recently linked neonicotinoids to deaths among farmland birds.

And an environmental setback Down Under, via the Guardian:

Repeal of Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act is a ‘tragedy’, Wilderness Society says

  • Queensland government argues repeal was necessary after federal court decision and new protections would be brought in

The Wilderness Society says the passage of Queensland government legislation to repeal the state’s Wild Rivers Act is a tragedy for some of the last free-flowing rivers on the planet.

But the Newman government says it reflects a federal court decision earlier this year, and a new framework will ensure river systems are protected.

The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, has told parliament that all former sites protected under the act would now be declared “strategic environmental areas”.

CBC News covers and environmental disaster closer to home:

Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach: Local state of emergency declared

  • Imperial Metals president says crews were working all night to stabilize debris and close the dam

A local state of emergency has been declared in an area where a B.C. tailings pond wall collapsed, sending millions of cubic metres of mine waste water and metals-laden sand into local waterways.

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) made the declaration roughly 48 hours after the Mount Polley mine’s tailings pond wall gave way.

The breach sent 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden sand out into local waterways, scouring away the banks of Hazeltine Creek and sending debris flowing into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, which rose 1.5 metres.

On to Japan and a Fukushimapocalypse Now! admission from the Japan Times:

Fukushima reactor 3 meltdown was worse than estimated: Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that its new estimate shows that all the fuel rods in reactor 3 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant apparently melted down and fell onto the bottom of the containment vessel.

In November 2011, the company had said it believed only about 63 percent of reactor 3’s fuel core had melted.

The utility updated its estimate as part of an effort to probe unclear points about the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant caused by a megaquake and monstrous tsunami in March 2011.

The revised estimate is based on the finding that an emergency cooling system, known as HPCI, of reactor 3 stopped working six hour earlier than previously thought, and that the meltdown had also started more than five hours earlier.

A major Oops! from NHK WORLD:

Tsunami projections for nuclear plant to be redone

The operator of a nuclear power plant in central Japan has been found to have miscalculated the simulated maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the complex.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority once approved tsunami projections submitted by Kansai Electric Power Company for the now-offline Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The estimates include tsunami heights and tremor intensity associated with earthquakes of the largest conceivable magnitude in the area.

From The Hill, another fuel, another problem:

Ethanol explosive for Cruz, Paul

Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) are trying to avoid an ethanol landmine in Iowa.

Both Republican senators have criticized federal subsidies for ethanol, which are popular in Iowa, the state hosting the first Republican contest in the 2016 race for the White House.

Iowa kingmakers in the party such as Sen. Chuck Grassley want the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 to champion ethanol. That’s a problem for Cruz and to a lesser extent for Paul, who are both crisscrossing the state this week in advance of possible campaigns for the presidency.

Cruz has introduced legislation that would repeal the renewable fuel standard over the next five years. The standard mandates that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol by volume.

And for our final item, from Grist, yet another fracktacular impact:

Frackers are strip-mining the Midwest for sand

There’s a new gold rush: sand. The golden-brown stuff has become the latest, hottest commodity on the market — actually, that’s inaccurate. It’s Northern White sand that’s all the rage now, according to The Wall Street Journal, because it can withstand intense heat and pressure underground. Why is that important? Because what’s driving the white sand demand is fracking.

The process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas involves blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the underground shale rock. It can take millions of gallons of water for a fracking operation (which can result in poisoned groundwater). But dig the numbers on sand: It can take 4 million pounds of sand to frack a single well, according to WSJ’s Alison Sider.

Which is why sand prices and stock values are going up and mining activities for sand are expanding, notably in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Agrofuel-driven corn crop prices lead to epic thirst


From a major new Circle of Blue report, describing the accelerating exhaustion of the Ogallala Aquifer [previously and here], the main source of agricultural water for much the Great Plains:

Corn prices, though down a bit in 2013, have been at near-record levels for several years, in part due to the federal ethanol program. One widely cited research paper from economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Davis reckoned that 34 percent of the increase in corn prices between 2006 and 2012 was due to the federal government’s 2007 subsidy program to produce billions of gallons of ethanol for use as fuel.

The federal ethanol program, and demand for animal feed in general, is pushing Great Plains water use higher. Corn is one of the thirstier crops sown on the plains. It needs a full drink at specific periods in the growing cycle. It is an all-or-nothing crop, and most farmers are giving it all the water it needs.

“The highest corn yields in the U.S. are in Dallam County, Texas,” said Bob Stewart, a professor of agricultural sciences at West Texas A&M University and director of the Dryland Agriculture Institute, referring to the county in the northwest corner of the Panhandle. “Why? Because we use a heck of a lot of water. Are we going to deplete the aquifer doing it? Yes, we are. Why? It’s economical.”

EnviroWatch: Fires, plagues, nukes, meltdowns


Today’s tales from the place when humans meet the world that gave us life begins with the latest from a drought-stricken Golden State, via the Guardian:

State of emergency in California as wildfires spread from Oregon

  • Governor Jerry Brown declare state of emergency
  • Lightning, high temperatures and drought increase threat

More than a dozen wildfires in California, some of which destroyed homes, forced evacuations and damaged infrastructure and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency on Saturday.

The move came as fires in other West Coast states chewed through parched forests, brush and terrain, destroying some homes and threatening many others. In California, dry lightning, high temperatures and severe drought conditions exacerbated the fire danger.

Brown’s emergency proclamation said that the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat. To that end, he secured a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75% of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California.

Next up, for our first item on the plague that has the world worrying we turn to BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Virus spreading too fast, says WHO

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is spreading faster than efforts to control it, World Health Organization (WHO) head Margaret Chan has said.

She told a summit of regional leaders that failure to contain Ebola could be “catastrophic” in terms of lives lost.

But she said the virus, which has claimed 729 lives in four West African countries since February, could be stopped if well managed.

Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Ebola spiraling out of control: WHO

  • The deadly Ebola virus is moving faster than efforts to control it, the World Health Organization says. The warning came at the launch of a $100 million response plan to the epidemic.

The leaders of the three countries hardest hit by the recent Ebola epidemic – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – met on Friday in the Guinean capital, Conakry, along with the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Margaret Chan. Also at the meeting was the President of Ivory Coast.

The group came together to launch a $100 million (74.5 million euro) response plan to counter the rapidly spreading virus. The largest-ever recorded outbreak of Ebola has killed at least 729 people since the beginning of the year, including a number of doctors and other health workers.

The leaders discussed the deployment of hundreds of medical personnel to help overstretched workers and facilities, as well as better prevention methods – including better detection of cases and improved border surveillance.

The London Daily Mail raises hopes prematurely:

Experimental Ebola vaccine will be tested on people NEXT MONTH as U.S. pushes clinical trial of possible life-saving drug

  • First Ebola vaccine clinical trials involving humans scheduled for September
  • Current Ebola outbreak is worst since disease was discovered in 1976
  • So far there have been more than 1,200 cases and 672 people have died
  • There is no cure and no vaccine available to treat or prevent the disease
  • Around four drugs are in the development stage in the U.S.
  • But researchers say it is difficult to generate funding to progress vaccines
  • First drug to prevent the vicious virus is two to six years off, scientists say

The Wire adds a dash of cold water:

Why There May Never Be A Cure for Ebola

Many pharmaceutical companies and researchers have been testing possible cures for years.

So what’s stopping them? To begin with, antiviral therapy is an especially challenging field compared to bacterial diseases, because viruses have fewer targets for treatment (read: proteins, which drugs can work with), and they evolve quickly. If a vaccine is developed today that works, it might not make a dent in future outbreaks. And with five known species of Ebola virus, there’s plenty of room for further viral evolution.

More important, Ebola is—and this should be obvious by now—an incredibly dangerous virus to handle. It requires high-level safety equipment and special facilities, deemed “biosafety level 4″ or the highest level of protection, to keep labs in check. It’s costly, hard to control, and a major roadblock to progress.

More cold water via Defense One:

There’s Really No Way To Screen for Ebola at Airports

The bad news is that thermal screenings of the international flying population at airports are not likely to yield much by way of improved safety.

Here’s why: fever can be a sign of a lot of different illnesses, not just Ebola. And thermal scanning proved to be a poor method of catching bird flu carriers in 2009 as well. So presenting with an elevated temperature at an airport checkpoint does not indicate clearly enough that the fevered person is carrying the deadly virus. More importantly, the incubation period for Ebola is two days. As many as 20 days can pass before symptoms show up. That means that an individual could be carrying the virus for two weeks or longer and not even know it, much less have it show up via thermal scan. So what good are these scanners?

“I think that thermal screeners help people feel safe,” Dr. Noreen Hynes with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Defense One.

Deutsche Welle adds context:

Ebola virus a serious threat to urban areas

The Ebola virus continues to spread in West Africa. As national and international health organizations intensify their fight against the disease, people in big cities are starting to fear a worst case scenario.

Lagos: Africa’s largest city, a metropolis of more than 20 million people. West Africa’s economic hub. This megacity can not be thrown off balance by the recent Ebola outbreak. Or can it?

“One should be in a panic mood,” says Chris Obiake, a paralegal in Lagos. He is one of the innumerable pedestrians passing newspaper stands in Lagos every morning. The headlines scream: ‘Ebola is killing more and more people.’ Obiake is clearly worried, “given the wide spread of the disease in the West African region”, he told a Reuters reporter,”coupled with the fact that doctors are on strike”.

The fact that many doctors employed at public hospitals have been on strike since July 1 has not helped to put minds at rest in Lagos where the first Ebola case was reported last week. A Liberian man who had flown into the country died shortly afterwards. The disease is contagious, the incubation period can last up to three weeks and diagnosis is difficult: A recipe for disaster for the millions commuting in crammed mini-buses every day.

From the Guardian, a pullback:

US Peace Corps evacuates hundreds from west Africa over Ebola outbreak

  • State Department said hundreds evacuated as two volunteers under isolation after having contact with infected person

The largest recorded Ebola outbreak in history has led the US Peace Corps to evacuate hundreds of volunteers from three affected west African countries, and a State Department official says two volunteers are under isolation after having contact with a person who later died of the virus.

The Peace Corps said on Wednesday it was evacuating 340 volunteers from Liberia as well as neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The State Department official said the two volunteers were not symptomatic and were under observation. The official was not authorized to discuss the cases for attribution, and declined to say where the volunteers were serving or when they were exposed.

United Press International sounds an alarm:

CDC issues Level 3 travel warning, citing Ebola outbreak

The two Americans that have been infected with the Ebola virus are coming back to the United States for treatment under controlled environments. The first of the two Americans is expected to arrive in the U.S. on Saturday, CNN reports.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Level 3 travel warning for Americans traveling to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia due to the Ebola outbreak.

In addition to having specialists on the ground in the countries, the CDC is screening and educating travelers to prevent infected people from boarding planes. If they do board planes and leave the region, the CDC will enact protocols to investigate and possibly quarantine all ill travelers to prevent spread of the disease. Airlines have been notified of procedures in the case of sick passengers and all healthcare workers have been instructed on how to prevent the spread of the disease should it reach the United States.

The CDC and its foreign counterparts are not screening all travelers at the point of entry if they are travelling from one of the countries impacted. The U.S, along with the World Health Organization and other partners, are working to contain the outbreak in West Africa.

BBC News brings it home:

Ebola crisis: Infected doctor Kent Brantly lands in US

A US doctor infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia has arrived in the US for treatment at a specialised unit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr Kent Brantly arrived in a specially equipped private plane at a military base before being whisked away to Emory University Hospital.

Fellow infected US aid worker Nancy Writebol is expected to follow shortly.

Ebola has claimed 728 lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this year, killing up to 90% of sufferers.

From Al Jazeera America, in the eye of the storm:

Liberia’s Ebola nightmare

  • Country contends with attacks on aid workers, slow government response and a weak health system

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf unveiled new measures to stem the spread of the illness that many health experts are now calling a humanitarian crisis. The country’s security forces will oversee the closure of all of Liberia’s schools as well as provide surveillance at borders and airports and possible testing of passengers suspected of carrying the disease. All government employees except heads of ministries and agencies, deputies and other essential staff will be put on mandatory leave, and state buildings will be disinfected. Johnson Sirleaf’s administration is also advising people to stay away from public places and entertainment centers, and prohibiting large public gatherings and demonstrations. Three communities in Lofa, in northern Liberia, have been put under quarantine; only police and health workers are permitted to enter or leave. On Thursday, neighboring Sierra Leone declared a national emergency and instituted similar measures.

The new measures in Liberia were announced a day after a tense meeting of a task force of government and foreign donors. At the meeting, a top official for the aid group Doctors Without Borders told Liberian officials that the outbreak required immediate attention five weeks ago, according to one attendee who declined to be identified. At that same meeting, Samaritan’s Purse, a large international aid group, announced it would halt management of treatment centers in Monrovia and Foya, Liberia, because of an attack on the charity’s workers last weekend after they tried to collect the body of a person suspected to have died of Ebola. Policemen are currently deployed outside many health facilities to protect staff from attacks, which have grown increasingly common amid mounting fears that health employees are spreading the disease.

From the Guardian, another epidemic:

State of emergency declared as Toledo tells residents: don’t drink the water

  • Tests reveal toxin possibly from Lake Erie algae
  • Governor John Kasich declares state of emergency

Toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie fouled the water supply of Ohio’s fourth-largest city Saturday, forcing officials to issue warnings not to drink the water and the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Worried residents descended on stores, quickly clearing shelves of bottled water.

“It looked like Black Friday,” said Aundrea Simmons, who stood in a line of about 50 people at a pharmacy before buying four cases of water. “I have children and elderly parents. They take their medication with water.”

The Guardian again, this time with the cause:

Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution

  • Toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie caused by phosphorus runoff
  • 400,000 affected by unsafe water supply in Ohio city

The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres. Hotter and longer summers also promote the spread of the blue-green scum.

The US government banned phosphorus in laundry detergents in 1988. That stopped the algal blooms for some time. But they came back to the Great Lakes in force in 2011 – forming a green scum that covered 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 sq miles) of water at its biggest extent – in the worst algal bloom in recorded history.

Scientists attribute the comeback in large part to changes in farming practices, including larger farms and different fertiliser practices, which send heavier loads of phosphorus into the lakes.

From MintPress News, another environmental danger, entirely of our won [corporate] making:

San Bruno Pipeline Indictment Begs Safety Questions About The Nation’s Fuel Pipelines

Top California regulators communicated often and enthusiastically with executives at Pacific Gas & Electric Co., even offering unsolicited advice on handling the media while they presided over a case to decide how much the utility should pay for a deadly explosion in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb.

On Sept. 9, 2010, a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, just two miles west of the San Francisco International Airport, creating a wall of fire witnesses estimated was more than 1,000 feet high and registering a shockwave the U.S. Geological Survey recorded as a magnitude 1.1 earthquake. The blast killed eight people, excavated a 173,000 cubic feet crater on Glenview Drive and destroyed 38 homes.

On Tuesday, the U.S.Attorney for the Northern District of California accused PG&E of knowingly lying to the National Transportation Safety Board about the company’s pipeline testing policy during the initial investigation of the explosion. According to the indictment, PG&E provided the NTSB with a version of the policy that addresses how the company deals with manufacturing defects with its pipelines. The explosion was found to be caused by a seam blowout, which failed under a full pressure load. PG&E would later withdraw the policy from evidence, calling it “an unapproved draft,” while, in reality, PG&E was operating under the submitted policy from 2009 to 2011. The policy failed to prioritize the company’s older natural gas pipelines — which tend to run through urban or residential areas — for repair or replacement.

Additionally, the U.S. attorney has brought 27 related charges against PG&E, alleging repeated violations of the Pipeline Safety Act of 1968. Among these charges are allegations that PG&E failed to keep accurate or complete records for its major pipelines, failed to identify or remedy threats to the pipeline network’s integrity, and failed to assess the safety of the pipeline network after the system was overpressurized. In the days prior to the explosion, local residents complained about the strong smell of gas in the area — an issue that was not adequately addressed.

The Guardian covers yet another environmental crime of our own manufacture:

Businessmen bribed foreign officials to import poisonous chemical

  • Bribes were paid by Innospec executives to secure orders to sell tetraethyl lead in Indonesia and Iraq, sentencing hearing told

Four businessmen channelled multi-million-pound bribes to foreign officials to induce them to buy huge quantities of a toxic chemical outlawed in the west, a court heard on Friday.

A sentencing hearing of the men was told the bribes were used to sell a fuel additive which was known to damage children’s brains, reducing their IQs and increasing mental illness.

Andrew Mitchell, QC for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), told the court that the executives had “deliberately” organised the bribes to prolong the sales of the leaded petrol, which was used in cars and aircraft.

And another one, this time from New Europe:

Rosneft, Exxon, Duck US, EU Sanctions in Arctic

Russian oil major Rosneft can continue drilling in harsh offshore areas like the Arctic despite EU and US sanctions after signing a $4.25 billion deal for drilling rigs from North Atlantic Drilling Ltd on July 29.

The Norwegian drill rig owner is supplying Rosneft and Exxon Mobil Corp with the kind of high technology that will be barred under US and EU sanctions.

Specifically, the EU sanctions target certain technologies needed for deep-sea drilling. However, Rosneft signed the deal before the sanctions were finalised, so the leases are probably still valid. The sanctions were expected to be possibly valid from August 1 and apply to future contracts.

National Geographic covers yet another crisis up north:

16-foot Waves Measured in Arctic Ocean Where There Was Once Only Ice

  • Reduced sea ice allowed the buildup of huge waves in the Beaufort Sea.

Sixteen-foot waves are buffeting an area of the Arctic Ocean that until recently was permanently covered in sea ice—another sign of a warming climate, scientists say.

Because wave action breaks up sea ice, allowing more sunlight to warm the ocean, it can trigger a cycle that leads to even less ice, more wind, and higher waves.

Scientists had never measured waves in the Beaufort Sea, an area north of Alaska, until recently. Permanent sea ice cover prevented their formation. But much of the region is now ice-free by September, and researchers were able to anchor a sensor to measure wave heights in the central Beaufort Sea in 2012.

The Independent covers yet another:

Mystery of the Siberian holes at the end of the world ‘solved’: Scientists offer explanation

Three mysterious giant craters that appeared suddenly in northern Siberia could actually be a previously unseen type of sinkhole, experts have said.

Explanations for the three enormous cavities, one of which was up to 300ft (70 metres) deep, have included everything from meteorites to aliens with some conspiracy theorists suggesting they could be connected to fracking.

A more plausible explanation for their existence has now begun to emerge. According to the website LiveScience, some experts now believe the strange cavities may be a type of permafrost sinkhole.

From MIT Technology Review, another alarm sounds:

Chinese GMO Research Outpaces Approvals

  • The fact that China hasn’t approved any commercial GMO planting since 2009 reflects public fears.

Despite recent research advances, such as a new strain of wheat that resists destructive mildew, commercial planting of genetically modified food crops has stalled in China, the world’s most populous nation and one with a fast-tightening food supply.

In 2009, the nation’s Ministry of Agriculture issued a so-called safety certificate to two strains of insect-resistant rice, known as Bt rice, pioneered by Qifa Zhang, a scientist at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan. The ministry also approved a type of corn that helps livestock digest phosphates.

Before that, a few minor crop varieties were approved for commercial planting. But to date only an insect-resistant cotton and a virus-resistant papaya have been commercially planted on a large scale in China.

After the jump, the latest [extensive] edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! and research pointing toward a healthier alternative. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Drought, plague, nukes, woes


For our compendium of headlines from the world of nature and its most dangerous predator [us], we begin with the latest on California’s epochal drought, via CNBC:

California drought: ‘May have to migrate people’

It’s going from worse to worst each week in California.

Suffering in its third year of drought, more than 58 percent of the state is currently in “exceptional drought” stage, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map. That marks a huge jump from just seven days ago, when about 36 percent of the state was categorized that way.

Exceptional drought, the most extreme category, indicates widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells. If the state continues on this path, there may have to be thoughts about moving people out, said Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University and who serves on the climate change delegation in the United Nations.

“Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought,” Wilson said. “We may have to migrate people out of California.”

Meanwhile back at the tap, with the Los Angeles Times:

Water-use restrictions take effect in California; daily fines possible

Tough new statewide regulations restricting outdoor water use took effect Tuesday, the same day millions of gallons of water gushed from a ruptured water main near the UCLA campus.

Under the emergency conservation restrictions, which were approved July 15 and were prompted by the statewide drought, hosing down driveways and sidewalks is prohibited, as is watering outdoor landscapes if it causes excess runoff.

In addition, water can’t be added to a decorative water feature unless it uses a recirculating system. Californians can use a hose to wash their cars only if the hose has a shut-off nozzle.

Offenders can be subject to a daily fine of $500.

And then there’s EbolaWatch, first with this from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: WHO to announce $100m emergency response

The head of the World Health Organization and leaders of West African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak are to announce a joint $100m (£59m; 75m euro) response plan.

They will meet in Guinea on Friday to launch the initiative aimed at tackling a virus which has claimed 729 lives.

Sierra Leone’s president has declared a public health emergency over the outbreak after 233 people died there.

CBS News imports:

White House Looking Into Medevac Options To Bring 2 American Aid Workers Diagnosed With Ebola Back To US

U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to the three African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.

The travel advisory applies to non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The outbreak in those West Africa countries has killed more than 700 people this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk of the deadly disease coming to the United States remains small. The last time the federal agency issued such a travel warning was in 2003 because of a SARS outbreak in Asia.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into Medevac options to bring two American aid workers diagnosed with Ebola back to the U.S. While the U.S. government would facilitate the response, private companies would be used.

And from Reuters, contagion explained:

Taxis, planes and viruses: How deadly Ebola can spread

For scientists tracking the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, it is not about complex virology and genotyping, but about how contagious microbes – like humans – use planes, bikes and taxis to spread.

So far, authorities have taken no action to limit international travel in the region. The airlines association IATA said on Thursday that the World Health Organisation is not recommending any such restrictions or frontier closures.

The risk of the virus moving to other continents is low, disease specialists say. But tracing every person who may have had contact with an infected case is vital to getting on top of the outbreak within West Africa, and doing so often means teasing out seemingly routine information about victims’ lives.

From the Guardian, an environmental alarm:

Wading birds declining in the UK

  • Conservationists say climate change could be partly to blame for big drop in numbers in eight of the main species over 10 years

Results from the Wetland Bird Survey reveals that ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshank and dunlin are among the eight most abundant species overwintering on UK estuaries to suffer significant and consistent population drops over 10 years.

Conservationists believe several factors are responsible, including climate change forcing the birds to areas outside the UK, and say collaborative international research is imperative. Examinations of the traditional sites, the largest of which include the Wash, Morecambe Bay and Thames Estuary, are also required to determine if there are site-specific issues.

Ringed plovers have suffered a decline of 39% in 10 years in over-wintering birds and those breeding in the UK. Redshank have fallen by 26% and Dunlin by 23%.

While the Guardian reminds us of one of yesterday’s toxic blessings:

BHP ordered to make record $2.2m asbestos compensation payment

  • The latest Dust Diseases Tribunal decision marks the largest payout in its 25-year history

Mining giant BHP Billiton will pay a record $2.2m to a man who was exposed to asbestos at a New South Wales steelworks.

The compensation was ordered on Thursday by the state’s Dust Diseases Tribunal, and is understood to be the largest payment in the tribunal’s 25-year history.

The decision is also the first time BHP Billiton has been ordered to pay financial compensation to a former employee of the Newcastle steelworks who has contracted mesothelioma, an incurable cancer.

Off to Japan and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! With the Mainichi:

3 ex-TEPCO execs recommended for indictment by citizens’ committee

A committee for the inquest of prosecution announced on July 31 that it had recommended three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), including its former chairman, be indicted for their criminal responsibility over the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster.

The citizen-composed Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said that while it was impossible to predict specifically that a tsunami like the one that struck on March 11, 2011, would hit the plant, the TEPCO executives should have been better prepared for the coming of a tsunami. It said that research done before the Great East Japan Earthquake was scientifically-based, but TEPCO, while knowing that it shouldn’t ignore this research, avoided taking disaster-prevention measures due to reasons including their cost.

The recommendation was adopted on July 23. It overrides a former decision by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office not to indict the three former executives on charges that included causing death and injury through professional negligence, and requires them to re-examine the former executives’ cases and make a new decision on their indictment. If they again decide not to indict and the committee again decides in favor, indictment will proceed forcibly.

Kyodo News covers a long-delayed start date:

Water treatment to get into full swing at Fukushima facility in Dec.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Thursday it will begin full-scale operation of its trouble-plagued radioactive water treatment facility in December after taking steps to improve its performance.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which began a test-run of the facility in March last year, initially planned to start its full-scale operation in April to accelerate efforts at tackling the toxic water buildup at the complex. But it was forced to delay the plan as the facility was hit by a series of problems.

The water treatment performance of the facility, which is said to be capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from toxic water generated in the process of cooling the reactors that suffered meltdowns in the 2011 nuclear crisis, has also not been as good as expected because some of the substances remain untreated.

From the Asahi Shimbun, yet another debacle:

Radioactive dust released during Fukushima cleanup reaches as far as Miyagi Prefecture

Airborne radioactive materials released during debris-clearing work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were found in a town 60 kilometers away on seven occasions since December 2011.

Led by Teruyuki Nakajima, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, the team noted a surge in concentration of airborne radioactive cesium during clean-up activities that reached the town of Marumori in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture.

The researchers said the findings show that radioactive materials were repeatedly released into the environment and reached extensive areas during debris-clearing operations.

And on the health side of things, this from the Japan Times:

Experts question Fukushima thyroid screening

The iodine-131 released into the air by the meltdowns accumulates in the thyroid gland, increasing the risk of thyroid cancer. The gland is responsible for regulating hormone levels in the body.

Children are considered especially vulnerable. After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, more than 6,000 children were diagnosed with thyroid cancer by 2005, according to the U.N. Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

Given the local anxiety, the Fukushima Prefectural Government in October 2011 started offering free thyroid screenings for everyone who was 18 or younger at the time of the disaster. The prefecture has 370,000 residents in that age group, and 300,000 had received voluntary checkups by the end of March.

The program may look good on paper, but it has drawn flak from medical experts who say it is far from adequate in determining a link between the cancers found and radiation exposure.

The Mainichi unsettles:

Shioya residents angry over proposed radioactive waste disposal site

Residents here gathered in front of the Shioya Town Hall on July 30 to protest the Environment Ministry’s announcement the same day that the government was looking to make the town a final disposal site for radioactive waste.

The ministry has been searching for a location to construct a facility to store “designated waste” including radioactive materials from the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. On July 30, Deputy Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited the Shioya town office and asked Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to agree to a detailed inspection of the area.

The ministry is apparently eyeing 3 hectares of state-owned land in Shioya to construct the storage site. The ministry says it picked the site because it had the highest score on a 5-point suitability scale in four categories — including a lack of local active faults and distance from settlements and water sources.

And our final item, via the Asahi Shimbun, importing the hot stuff:

India seeks Japan’s approval to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

Japan has been asked to approve reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in India as part of negotiations to conclude a nuclear power agreement between the two nations.

But though the Abe administration is eager to export nuclear power generation infrastructure as a pillar of its economic growth strategy, some Japanese government officials are cautious about approving the request from India.

The reprocessing produces plutonium that can be used as raw materials for nuclear weapons, which India already possesses.

California drought dramatically intensifies


While all of the state remains in a condition of Severe Drought, the latest United States Drought Monitor map reveals a dramatic increase of in the region ranked in the most severe Exceptional Drought category, which now covers 58.4 percent of the Golden State, compared to last week’s 36.5 percent. The critically impacted region now includes all of California’s Central Valley, the West’s agricultural breadbasket:

BLOG Drought